Health & Medicine

Workers strike today at UC hospitals, campuses statewide for third time in 11 months

Thousands of University of California workers are launching their third strike in less than a year Wednesday at 10 campuses and five medical centers statewide, saying their labor contract negotiations have stalled because UC leaders are not willing to address wage inequality and job security.

Pickets are marching all day at the UC Davis Medical Center campus along Sacramento’s Stockton Boulevard and near Toomey Field on the UC Davis campus.

For over a year, the University of California has continued to ignore the well-founded concerns of the workers that make this the finest research institution in the world,” said Jamie McDole, president of UPTE-CWA 9119, the union that called the 24-hour strike. “By shortchanging the frontline workers who make UC run every day, administrators are showing a profound lack of commitment to the students, patients, and taxpayers that this institution is supposed to serve.”

The University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119 represents 14,000 research, technical and health care workers at UC facilities around the state. Roughly 25,000 members of the AFSCME 3299, the largest UC union, agreed to strike in sympathy with them. The two unions and the UC have been in contract negotiations for roughly two years.

Claire Doan, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, said: “If UPTE and AFSCME leaders had channeled as much effort into negotiations as they do into organized theatrics, we’d have a deal by now. Three disruptive strikes in less than one year come at a cost to everyone – patients, students and UC communities – while doing nothing to help unionized workers get closer to a contract and wage increases.”

UPTE-CWA spokesperson Dan Russell said UC leaders continue to ignore their employees’ concerns over wage inequality, job insecurity and employment benefits. Wednesday’s job action drew the attention of presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the nation’s most outspoken critics of the growing gap in pay between executives and their rank-and-file employees. He will speak at a rally at UCLA.

The UPTE-CWA membership includes positions such as art therapists, case managers, audiologists, animal technicians, lab assistants, art models and pharmacists on the UC’s 10 campuses and five medical centers. AFSCME 3299 represents many low-wage workers, including admitting clerks, anesthesia technicians, MRI technologists, cooks, gardeners and security guards.

AFSCME and UPTE-CWA joined the California Nurses Association in a walkout in May. Nurses ratified a contract deal in September that gave them 15 percent wage increases over five years, and as part of that agreement, they said they would not launch sympathy strikes. Members of AFSCME 3299 voted to hit the picket line in October and UPTE-CWA joined them.

Members of AFSCME and UPTE-CWA have said they are deeply concerned over the 2017 findings from the California State Auditor that UC’s Office of the President was paying exorbitant salaries to a number of executives.

In one example of the pay disparities, the auditor noted that 10 top executives were paid a total of $3.7 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year, more than $700,000 over what their highest-paid state peers earned. The auditor recommended that the UC set targets for reducing some executive salaries, a step that the UC said it already had begun with compensation surveys in 2016.

UC has ... worked to worsen income inequality,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “Thousands of UC workers represented by UPTE recognize that the university’s efforts to flatten wages, cut benefits, and eliminate middle-class career pathways are hurting families and our members are proud to stand with them in solidarity.”

The technical and research units of UPTE-CWA rejected the UC’s last, best and final offer in late February. The health care unit remains in negotiations but will hit the picket line in solidarity with their co-workers. The terms of the UC’s offer to UPTE-CWA included:

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, with Russell saying the 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.

Doan said the UC pays UPTE-CWA and AFSCME workers at or above market rates, with average annual salaries at $64,764 for clinical research coordinators, $67,195 for business technical support analysts, $116,028 for clinical laboratory scientists and $167,708 for pharmacists.

On average, Doan said, UPTE-CWA members are earning 20 percent more now than they did five years ago and AFSCME members, 21 percent more. Labor is the UC’s single largest expense, Doan said, and administrative leaders cannot justify wage increases of 26 percent over a four-year contract.

On job security, Doan said UPTE-CWA membership has grown by 7 percent over the last five years, and AFSCME added 17 percent more members over the term of its last deal. The UC is legally barred, she said, from contracting out jobs solely to generate savings on wages and benefits, and it must find jobs for any workers displaced by service contracts.

Steve Telliano, the spokesperson for UC Davis Medical Center, said all patients should keep their appointments and all scheduled surgeries and appointments will take place as usual. The strike is not expected to affect patient care, he said, but some ancillary services may be affected.

“The cafeteria at UC Davis Medical Center will be closed, so some patients will receive a boxed meal instead of their usual meal choice,” he said, “and some walk-in patients may have to go to a different location to get their blood drawn.”

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.