UC Health Workers Stage Two-Day Walk Out


Thousands of patient care workers at University of California hospitals represented by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees 3299 went on strike on May 21 and 22, despite a legal injunction limiting their numbers.

AFSCME vocational nurses, technicians and service workers staged rallies at all five UC medical centers, protesting low wages and unlivable pensions. The strike is the result of failed negotiations between the union and UC hospitals over employment contracts that expired in September. AFSCME 3299 communications director Todd Stenhouse said that he maintains that the union wants to secure the best possible care for patients by encouraging the medical system to hire career workers and pay fair wages.

Members of the union wish to see increased wages and better benefits. 

“As a patient caregiver, we want to be taken care of,” UCSD Thornton Hospital emergency room technician Chris Mejia said. “It seems like it takes the union to intervene, to announce these strikes, to put pressure on the UC system to help us along financially [and] advance in our careers. It seems like if we don’t do this, we allow them to continue to walk all over us.”

Another union, University Professional and Technical Employees Communications Workers of America Local 9119, joined ASFCME workers in a sympathy strike on Tuesday. UPTE-CWA 9119 represents healthcare professionals, researchers and technical employees on university campuses.

UC officials estimate that the two-day strike will cost the university $20 million across all five medical centers.

Officials held a news conference at the UC Office of the President, where senior vice President for Health Sciences and Services Dr. John Stobo discussed the complete impact of the strike. The medical system expects to remain operational, with elective surgeries postponed and emergency patients diverted to non-UC facilities.

Stobo also released a statement condemning the strike earlier in the week.

“Shame on them for jeopardizing health services that people need and deserve. It is completely inappropriate to threaten services to patients as a negotiating tactic — the health of our patients must not be held hostage,” he said. “If union members are as concerned with patient safety as they claim, why strike?”

Last week, AFSCME released a report of a plan to meet patients’ immediate needs during the strike. The plan included voluntary strike exemptions for respiratory therapy workers as well as a Patient Protection Task Force that will cross picket lines in the event of a patient emergency.

The Public Employment Relations Board filed a formal complaint against the union, arguing that allowing too many essential employees strike constitutes an unfair labor practice. The union argued that its plan satisfied the concessions that PERB recommended. 

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David Brown granted an injunction on Monday that limits the number of AFSCME members that were allowed to strike.

UCOP Vice President of Systemwide Human Resources Dwaine Duckett stated that the injunction was appreciated but more limited than the university hoped to see.

The strike is not scheduled to continue into Thursday, with striking employees expected to return to work then.