Workers voice grievances

    A forum was held by UCSD workers Nov. 13 to formally assert their complaints regarding the management of the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest and the UCSD main campus. Workers presented charges of mismanagement, discrimination, sexual harassment and understaffing.

    Stu Iler
    Guardian

    A panel of invited officials attended the meeting. Representatives from Rep. Susan Davis’ and Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe’s offices were present. A member of Students for Economic Justice, local Pastor Bill Penneman and a UCSD retiree completed the panel.

    The forum was organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local union 3299. According to AFSCME Southern California Organizing Coordinator Jose Hernandez, similar forums are planned to take place at the UC campuses in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Irvine.

    “”Knowing the condition the budget is in, we’re not here to ask for money,”” Hernandez said early on in the meeting. “”We’re asking the state to make an inquiry. Middle management is making the lives of workers unbelievably hard.””

    Stu Iler
    Guardian

    According to Hernandez, workers are screamed at, talked down to and generally mistreated. He believes that severe understaffing and an excessive number of supervisor positions are the catalysts to the bulk of this mistreatment.

    “”This system does not deal properly with abusive management,”” Hernandez said. “”Ninety percent of problems center around the managers.””

    The first worker to address the panel was Teodalo Balagat, who is currently employed as a lead custodian at the Hillcrest hospital. According to Balagat, the people in his department were forced to take a salary cap in order to keep their jobs.

    Almost three years ago, he was asked to accept a decrease in pay and hours resulting from budget cuts. Balagat said he had previously been working at Hillcrest on a full-time schedule for six years. Though he did not like the reduction in his status, his wife was pregnant and he needed to keep his job.

    “”Our department is severely understaffed,”” Balagat said. “”Many times we give up our breaks and lunch to help our coworkers. Sometimes we have to cut corners to get all the work done. This is not right. The patient suffers.””

    Balagat also complained about the subcontract held by Aramark Corporation. According to him, Aramark management’s chief concern is staying under budget. Under the Aramark administration, Balagat claims that people are not properly trained and that this leads to people getting injured or quitting their jobs.

    Balagat admonished management for a new policy in his department that does not allow workers to speak in their native languages at work, even while on sanctioned breaks.

    “”My department and I feel that Aramark management needs to go,”” Balagat said. “”They totally disregard our union contracts and they disregard the workers.””

    Assistant Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Rogers Davis addressed the forum as the university’s representative. He answered questions regarding the University’s sick leave policy, reaffirming that the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take time off to care for their family members, does apply to UC workers.

    Davis also emphasized that all employees have the right to bring issues forward through their union representative.

    “”I’m hearing many of these grievances for the first time,”” Davis said. “”I’m not here to debate the issues, just to inform the workers of what their entitlements are.””

    However, in terms of the allegations of racial- and gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, Davis took a firmer stance, arguing that type of misconduct is not accepted at UCSD.

    “”I will put my name and reputation on the line to investigate such issues,”” he said.

    Hernandez replied that the workers are aware of the protocol and procedures to report grievances, but that they are not effective. He also said that most feel that the procedures for reporting managerial misconduct are highly adversarial.

    Hernandez said that when workers ask for time off for sick leave, they are verbally reprimanded. This verbal censure, called an “”occurrence,”” often leads to marks on the worker’s record or bad evaluations, according to Hernandez.

    “”Sick workers are coming into contact with patients because they are afraid to ask for the time off,”” Hernandez said. “”Yes, we can file a grievance, but 95 percent of the time it’s stopped at step one,”” Hernandez said. “”We have a procedure, but it’s not working. Supervisors need to be held accountable to the workers.””

    The second worker to speak was Patricia Segrest, a senior custodian at Hillcrest medical center. Segrest said she has worked as a housekeeper for five years and that overall, she enjoys her job. One of her main duties is to clean patient rooms to prepare them for the next patient.

    Segrest also said that the Aramark corporation hinders the work environment and does not provide competent management. According to her, there are numerous incidents of race- and gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment that go unmentioned in her department. She said workers have lost faith in the current system of filing complaints concerning supervisors because there are often incidents of retaliation.

    “”[Supervisors] yell at you in front of patients,”” Segrest said. “”They give unfair evaluations to stop us from getting raises. People fear for their job. They fear retaliation.””

    Segrest also accused Aramark of perpetuating improper health and safety precautions.

    “”We are supposed to be informed when a room has been exposed to airborne diseases like TB,”” Segrest said. “”There is a universal two-hour rule that you are not supposed to go and clean a room for two hours after the patient has left. We are frequently not informed, and this rule is ignored.””

    Employees and union leaders felt the forum was a necessity to improve working conditions before drastic measures, such as walkouts, take place.

    “”This is not about money, this is about respect,”” said Jorge Olvera, a UCSD campus groundskeeper and the AFSCME local union 3299 service vice president. “”This will not cost the university — not a penny.””

    In an interview regarding the forum, Davis expressed that he was “”somewhat baffled”” by the content of the forum.

    Davis, however, feels that the current system does work when timely allegations are made about specific cases. He also mentioned that there are hotlines that workers can call to report misconduct anonymously.

    “”This university works hard to promote due process opportunities. We try to provide an environment of objectivity and fairness,”” Davis said. “”I do not agree that the protocols and procedures in place are not effective.””

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