Health & Medicine

Union representing 15,000 UC workers stages rallies statewide as negotiations stall again

The union representing 15,000 health, research and technical workers at the University of California staged protests statewide Wednesday, including in Sacramento and Davis, after another round of contract negotiations failed to produce an agreement.

After several days of talks last week that yielded no written proposal, UPTE-CWA 9119 said key issues remained unresolved: daily overtime for health care professionals, salary increases for the next five years for researchers and technical workers, and a portion of workers being excluded from raises in the first year of the contract, according to the union website.

The rallies were planned for Sacramento, Davis, Berkeley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Riverside and Irvine. In the Sacramento area, protesters gathered at Mrak Hall on the UC Davis campus and at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Around 100 people gathered outside the medical center’s main entrance on Stockton Boulevard during their lunch break.

Jamie McDole, UPTE-CWA 9119 president and chief negotiator, said the exclusion of 10 percent of workers from receiving raises in the first year of the proposed contract provided the impetus for the noon rally.

“A union is all about everybody together, and we won’t tolerate the exclusion of membership,” said McDole.

In a prepared statement for the University of California, spokeswoman Claire Doan said: “The university has made substantive, fair offers throughout the negotiations process to reach an agreement that would give our employees the long-awaited raises they deserve. It is about time UPTE leaders to do the same – and let employees vote on UC’s offer, which they have yet to do since bargaining began.”

Greg Wine, president of the UC Davis chapter of UPTE-CWA, asked at the Sacramento rally, “If you look to your right and look to your left, would you feel whole if you got a raise and your colleague didn’t?”

The crowd yelled back, “No!”

UC Davis labor relations representatives Tom Anderson and Timothy Zamanigan were present at the rally but declined to comment.

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.

Karen Ma, 30, a clinical lab scientist at the medical center, said that salaries in her department were “incredibly under market,” leading to worker shortages and understaffing. The result, she said, has been a grueling overtime schedule, with some in her department working 17 days in a row without a break.

“We’ve had a hard time retaining students who train here, we’ve had a hard time retaining staff, and when people retire and leave, they’re not replaced,” Ma said. Many current staffers are new and less experienced, especially the ones who work night shifts, according to Ma.

Samrrah Raouf, 56, a clinical research coordinator, said she just wants UC to “treat its patients properly by treating the people who treat the patients properly.”

Members of the California Nurses Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees also showed up during their lunch break in solidarity.

Jasmine Tobin, 37, is an occupational therapy assistant represented by AFSCME. Tobin said the contract negotiations are not just about current concerns about wages, but “planning your life, planning your future.”

The union called a 24-hour strike in March, its third in less than a year, saying contract negotiations had stalled because UC leaders were not willing to address wage inequality and job security.

After UC unilaterally imposed a wage increase of 3 percent in April that would appear on workers’ June paychecks, union leaders said in a news release that they were weighing their options, up to and including another strike.

In mid-July, progress had been made regarding 3 percent increases in salary to make up for the missed raises in 2017 and 2018 as well as yearly cost-of-living increases for researchers and technical workers, according to UPTE-CWA.

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.

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.

UPTE-CWA joined the California Nurses Association in a walkout last May. The registered nurses voted to ratify a contract deal in September that gave them 15 percent wage increases over five years. 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. AFSCME represents 15,000 employees such as respiratory therapists, medical transcribers and phlebotomists in its patient-care unit and 9,000 members in its service unit, which includes building food service workers, security guards and custodians.

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Jaimie Ding, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee with an interest in politics and international relations. She grew up in Vancouver, Washington.