Health & Medicine

Union representing 10,000 workers weighs strike after UC imposes contract terms

Horns blare at UC Davis Medical Center as workers picket in the rain

The blare of vuvuzelas, the horns familiar to soccer fans, echo around the UC Davis Medical Center on March 20, 2019, as union workers picket over stalled contract negotiations with the University of California.
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The blare of vuvuzelas, the horns familiar to soccer fans, echo around the UC Davis Medical Center on March 20, 2019, as union workers picket over stalled contract negotiations with the University of California.

The union representing 10,000 research and technical workers at the University of California on Wednesday denounced the UC’s decision to unilaterally impose a wage increase of 3 percent that will appear in their June checks.

UPTE-CWA 9119 leaders said in a news release that they are weighing their options, up to and including a strike. Members of the union have joined in four strikes over the past 12 months.

The union has been bargaining for new labor contracts with the UC for about two years, and contracts for all the employees it represents have expired. The union’s research and technical units reached an impasse in negotiations in mid-February, meaning that the UC could implement its own terms.

“Implementation is just another of UC’s tactics to bully and confuse workers into accepting an unfair offer, and it is not the product of good-faith negotiations by UC,” said UPTE-CWA President Jamie McDole. “These workers have been fighting for a fair contract for nearly two years in which UC has made next to no movement on our key demands, which address the crisis in recruitment and retention, and protect UC students, patients, and research.”

In a letter to UPTE-CWA members on Monday, Peter Chester, the executive director UC Systemwide Labor Relations, announced the terms.

“We believe negotiations with UPTE have taken much longer than they should, and it has been too long since you have received a raise,” Chester said “At some point, UC and UPTE will need to return to the bargaining table in order to negotiate any additional increases as part of a multi-year contract.”

Labor expert Robert Bruno said unionized employees have an expectation their employers will not make any changes in terms until the two sides agree on them, and until an agreement is reached, they expect their employer to respect the bargaining process.

“If the employer imposes something, it’s because the employer thinks it’s a good deal,” Bruno said, “and quite frankly, to put it in a vernacular, the employer is saying, ‘We’ve negotiated. We’ve talked, and we don’t agree, and because we don’t agree, I’m going to force this on you.’”

UPTE-CWA 9119 rejected the UC’s last contract offer, the terms of which included:

Annual wage increases of 3 percent from 2020 to 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 and Gold plans.

While on the picket line at UC Davis Medical Center with AFSCME 3299 last week, McDole said she remains concerned clinical lab scientists remain in short supply in the UC, meaning that individuals in the jobs are working exceptionally long shifts. Competitive wages and benefits would go a long way toward solving the shortage, she said, and that is crucial. McDole is also concerned about differences in benefit packages between UPTE-CWA employees and other UC employees.

University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America 9119 represents 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. 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.

About 2,700 UPTE-CWA workers have positions on the UC Davis campus and in its Sacramento-based medical center. UPTE-CWA members include art therapists, case managers, audiologists, animal technicians, lab assistants, art models and pharmacists.

Editor’s note: This article was corrected April 18 to state that the University of California is giving a one-time increase in wages to research and technical members of UPTE-CWA.

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