Health & Medicine

10,000 UC hospital, campus workers could strike after contract talks hit wall

UC Davis Medical Center workers explain why they are on strike

UC Davis Medical Center workers and their supporters strike outside the hospital for better wage increases and job security as part of a statewide strike on Tuesday, October 23, 2018.
Up Next
UC Davis Medical Center workers and their supporters strike outside the hospital for better wage increases and job security as part of a statewide strike on Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

Union leaders for roughly 10,000 research and technical workers are contemplating whether to strike against the University of California after their union bargaining team rejected the last, best and final offer presented last week by the administration.

“UC knows that, if they continue to hold wages down, the only people they’ll be able to hire are the ones that are only there to build up their resumes before moving on to something better,” said Jamie McDole, president and chief negotiator for the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119.

“This means that there will be fewer of us who are willing to step up and challenge their drive toward prioritizing executive pay.”

The UC has been negotiating with UPTE-CWA 9119 since May 2017, and its last contract offer expired Friday. The UC said its proposed terms include:

  • Annual wage increases of 3 percent from 2020-2023, plus raises of 3 percent in April and October of this year. In a sign of just how rancorous negotiations are, the two sides disagreed over the contract period. UPTE-CWA spokesperson Dan Russell said UC’s offer extends through only September 2022.

  • A one-time payment of $1,250 upon contract ratification.
  • A $25 cap on monthly health insurance premiums for the UC’s Kaiser and Health Net Blue & Gold plans.

“Negotiations with the union have taken several years and included state-assisted mediation,” said UC spokesperson Claire Doan. “We have presented fair offers with guaranteed raises and excellent benefits. Meanwhile, UPTE leaders continue to demand pay raises that are financially unreasonable and out of line with increases the university has given other UC employees.”

UC leaders said the union has sought wage increases that would add up 16.5 to 22 percent over the life of the contract.

Russell said the union had surveyed its membership about what they felt would be a fair increase, and employees felt that a wage increase in this range was necessary to keep up with the cost of housing, child care and other basic needs. Low wages, he said, make it a challenge to recruit and retain employees who want to make a long-term commitment to research, health care and education.

Russell also noted that members’ complaints go beyond pay, and at bargaining sessions, they have voiced concerns about outsourcing contracts and erosion of full-time career work.

Rena DeCastro, who’s worked for 20 years on the help desk in the information technology team at UC Davis Medical Center, said she’s watched colleagues leave after a few years because they want to pursue more stimulating work at a company that pays more money.

“We’re having a lot of problems with retention because of the lack of cost-of-living increases and the erosion of benefits,” DeCastro said. “The lack of retention means you have employees with less experience. And, when we have a lot of turnover, you get pretty stretched thin when it comes to training.”

DeCastro said she and other rank-and-file workers don’t want to see benefits eroded, and they may strike to ensure that the administration hears their concerns.

UC Davis Health spokesman Edwin Garcia said that attrition in the health system’s IT department stands at about 4 percent so far for the current fiscal year and was 5 percent in the prior fiscal year. Retirements, he said, have accounted for 40 percent of the departures in both periods.

University officials want the union to let their membership vote on the contract terms they are offering. When the UC has failed to reach agreement with other unions, administrators have imposed contract terms that include annual 2 percent cost-of-living increases.

Russell said that UPTE-CWA members had voted last October in favor of a strike, and he said union leaders are considering whether to call a job action to push UC to make the kind of offer that the membership feels they deserve.

It would not be their first time on the picket line during this bargaining period. UPTE-CWA members up and down the state voted to walk out in October in sympathy with members of AFSCME 3299, which called a strike to protest similar contract disagreements.

UPTE-CWA represents roughly 5,000 health care workers, 5,000 researchers and 5,000 technical workers across the UC’s 10 campuses and five medical centers. About 2,700 of those workers have positions on the UC Davis campus and medical center. UPTE-CWA members include art therapists, case managers, audiologists, animal technicians, lab assistants, art models and firefighters.

Although all three contracts are now being negotiated, the UC and union have reached an impasse on contracts affecting workers in only the technical and research units. However, members covered under the health care contract already have approved a strike in sympathy with them.

Follow more of our reporting on Health Care Workers

See all 10 stories
Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid out of pocket for care. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and features editor. She previously worked at papers including the Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.