UC Hospital Workers Vote to Strike

     

    Patient care workers at University of California hospitals have voted to strike following a unionwide vote that showed 97-percent support from workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

    The union represents more than 13,000 workers statewide, including 2,200 patient care workers in the UCSD Health System who argue that a meager average pension of $19,000 before healthcare deductions is unlivable.

    The strike is the outcome of nearly 10 months of negotiations between the union and University of California hospitals over the workers’ contracts. AFSCME previously asked for a cap on executives’ pensions, while UC representatives offered a 3.5-percent wage increase over the next four years. Both proposals were ultimately turned down by the other side.

    Representatives from the UCSD Health System did not immediately return a phone call from the Guardian, but University of California Vice President of Systemwide Human Resources Dwaine Duckett previously released a statement condemning the strike as a tactic to divert attention from the health system’s attempt at pension reform.

    “By encouraging a possible strike among our patient care employees, AFSCME is attempting to use patient care as a tool in contract negotiations and potentially endangering public health, which is completely inappropriate,” Duckett said. “Patients are not bargaining chips.”

    AFSCME communications director Todd Stenhouse fired back that the UC executives who have raised their salaries by $100 million since 2009 are guilty of prioritizing their own wallets over patient safety.

    “The idea that a small group of executives who have diverted millions of dollars of taxpayer money to their already overstuffed pockets would make the claim that we’re sacrificing patient care does not even begin to pass the smell test,” Stenhouse said.

    AFSCME previously held a strike in 2008 in a similar dispute over low wages and high premiums for healthcare. At the time of the strike, 95 percent of union workers qualified for public assistance, according to AFSCME President Katherine Lybarger.

    Lybarger stated that the goals of the upcoming strike include securing a decent wage for employees and easing UC hospitals’ reliance on less experienced, less expensive temporary workers.

    “What we’re looking for is basic fairness,” she said. “Ultimately, we want to ensure the best care for our patients, and the way to do that is by hiring experienced, career workers.”

    Lybarger stated that a patient protection task force will take care of patients’ emergency needs during the strike.

    Stenhouse and Lybarger also asserted that it was now the responsibility of the health system to prevent the strike by being reasonable in meeting the union’s demands. 

    AFSCME has announced that it will give a 10-day notice before the strike begins at all five of the UC medical centers. Lybarger and Stenhouse expect thousands of workers at the picket lines, based on an enormous voter turnout last week.

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