Soapbox

UC hospital workers are striking for very good reasons

Workers of AFSCME Local 3299, the union which represents workers at UC Davis and its medical center, formed a picket line as a three-day strike began at the medical center in Sacramento on May 7. The union is striking again Tuesday through Thursday.
Workers of AFSCME Local 3299, the union which represents workers at UC Davis and its medical center, formed a picket line as a three-day strike began at the medical center in Sacramento on May 7. The union is striking again Tuesday through Thursday. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

America’s alarming inequality didn’t happen overnight. Well-funded elites have spent generations rigging the economy in their favor.

But teachers, hotel employees, health care providers and other workers are finally standing up to say “enough.” When a worker goes on strike, it means they aren’t getting paid, calling in sick, taking vacation or getting some other excused absence. It means they are withholding their labor and could be subject to retaliation.

In the face of these headwinds, unions representing more than 39,000 UC workers have called a strike Tuesday through Thursday that was authorized with 95 percent support.

 

Opinion

This strike at five University of California hospitals, including UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, is a last resort. Patient care workers – including those who perform x-rays, sterilize surgical instruments and respond when patients push the call button – have been bargaining for a new contract for the past year and a half.

Their average salary is about $55,000 a year. They want what all of us want – a wage that keeps pace with California’s skyrocketing cost of living, affordable health benefits, a chance to advance in their careers and a secure retirement.

But that’s not what UC is offering.

Kathryn Lybarger new.jpg
Kathryn Lybarger

Even as it just awarded pay hikes to executives making six-figure and seven-figure salaries, the university has bypassed bargaining and imposed employment terms that flatten wages, increase health premiums by 61 percent, raise the retirement age and guarantee the university can arbitrarily outsource what were once secure middle-class jobs to private firms that pay much less.

In fact, UC already is. At UCSF, where Medical Center CEO Mark Laret makes $1.1 million a year, one in six patient care jobs are already being outsourced. A recent state audit found the UC has been increasingly replacing its career employees with outsourcing companies, even violating its own procurement rules in the process.

What good is a raise when it more than offset by increases to your health insurance premiums and if your job is going to be outsourced?

Sadly, there is also a racial and a gender dimension to these issues. Research shows that on average, black and Latino UC patient care workers get paid lower starting wages than whites, are more likely to be fired or have their jobs outsourced and far less likely to win lucrative promotions. Black women and Latinas fare the worst.

Throughout its 150th anniversary year, UC has waged an aggressive PR campaign claiming to “Pioneer a Better Future” for California.

But for the front-line workers walking picket lines this week, such claims ring hollow. They see a widening income gap between UC’s elites and its workers, far less opportunity for women and people of color and an epidemic of outsourcing.

By ignoring these well-founded concerns, UC has given its workers no other option but to strike.

Kathryn Lybarger is president of AFSCME Local 3299, the University of California’s largest employee union, representing more than 24,000 workers. She can be contacted at klybarger@afscme3299.org.

 

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