Health & Medicine

Striking workers: UC Davis ‘trying to do a bait-and-switch’ with new Aggie Square hospital

See the noisy, wet strike by UC Davis Health workers as private-sector partnership questions raised.

By partnering with a private-sector company to build a new rehabilitation hospital, UC Davis Health is subverting labor contracts and partnering with a company that has a record of suppressing the wages of health care workers, two unions allege.
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By partnering with a private-sector company to build a new rehabilitation hospital, UC Davis Health is subverting labor contracts and partnering with a company that has a record of suppressing the wages of health care workers, two unions allege.

Picketing outside UC Davis Medical Center on Thursday, unionized workers again hammered home their displeasure over UCD’s plan to allow Kindred Healthcare to staff a new rehabilitation hospital planned for the Aggie Square development on the corner of Stockton Boulevard and Broadway in Sacramento.

“The university is trying to do a bait-and-switch,” said Samrrah Raouf, a clinical lab coordinator at UC Davis Health. “It’s going to put its name on buildings with health care workers inside who are actually not university employees, for example, like physical therapists, and we think that is very wrong. When somebody walks into a building that says UC Davis Health, one expects to have UC Davis Health employees working with them, and that’s not the case.”

Thousands of members of UPTE-CWA 9119 and AFSCME 3299 protested outsourcing Thursday in strikes across the University of California system. In news releases, union workers said they’re concerned not only about outsourcing at UC Davis Health but also with multimillion-dollar, systemwide contracts that the UC plans to sign for contingent workers in information technology and patient care.

UC Davis Health spokesperson Steve Telliano said the new rehabilitation hospital would not be possible without Kindred’s capital infusion. The state has seismic safety mandates that will force UCD to put the space currently housing the rehabilitation unit out of commission, he said, and the unit will not fit elsewhere within the medical center’s footprint.

“The hospital is going to cost upward of $60 million, and that’s money that we just don’t have right now because we’re already doing more than a billion dollars in seismic retrofits,” Telliano said. “The hospital will be something completely new. It will be something that is not in this market already, and it will bring new and additional services. It will double our capacity.”

If patient care is crucial, union members said, then UCD officials should ensure that they have staff with knowledge of UCD Health care delivery protocols and units as well as an executive compensation structure that emphasizes patient quality metrics rather than financial performance.

“Helping patients recover from traumatic illness or injury is a delicate process that requires experience and stability built over years working with the same team of people,” said Ashley Valenzuela-Takeoka, a physical therapist represented by UPTE. “UC’s outsourcing of dozens of therapy jobs like mine at UC Davis is just the tip of the iceberg. If we let them get away with this, any UC healthcare job could be turned into a short-term contract position, which will seriously threaten the quality of care that UC is known for.”

Telliano said the strike is about wages, not outsourcing. He said the unions have put forward raise proposals that would total 26-36 percent over four years, far exceeding what other UC employees have received.

Negotiators for both the University Professional and Technical Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have rejected UC’s offer of wage increases that would total 12-15 percent over four years.

UPTE, a unit of Communication Workers of America, represents roughly 15,000 UCD health care workers, researchers and technical workers. Roughly 2,700 of those employees work at the UC Davis campus and medical center in occupations that include physical therapists, case managers, audiologists, animal technicians, lab assistants, art models and pharmacists.

AFSCME represents about 24,000 individuals in the UC’s lowest-paid jobs. They occupy service and patient-care jobs such as admitting clerks, anesthesia technicians, MRI technologists, cooks, gardeners and security guards. AFSCME-represented workers number about 4,500 at the UCD campus and health system.

Union leaders have filed complaints over unfair labor practice charges over outsourcing, UC communications and union busting with the Public Employment Relations Board, a state labor agency that administers collective bargaining agreements for public employees. They say the UC’s outsourcing plans will have far-reaching impact on the California labor market, turning any middle-class job with health and retirement benefits, paid time off and career advancement into underpaid contingency workers who get no benefits and have no job security.

“The University of California has bypassed its workers at every turn, refusing to meet and confer about plans to outsource middle-class jobs in California to poverty wage contractors,” said AFSCME Local 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger, in a prepared statement. “By cutting workers out of decisions about who will be providing the services that UC patients and students rely on, it’s clear that UC is focused on one thing – paying its lowest wage workers even less.”

UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said that no UC entity can terminate an employee over a subcontracting issue. She noted that unions have actually grown and flourished at the University of California. From 2013 to 2018, AFSCME 3299 membership alone has grown by 17 percent and the number of all unionized workers has grown by 10 percent.

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