On May 10, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, which represents more than 12,500 UC patient care employees, announced it is asking members to strike UC medical centers on May 21-22. AFSCME-represented UC service workers also are expected to strike "in sympathy" with patient care employees.
The University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union, which represents about 3,300 UC health care professionals, announced recently it also is asking its members to strike UC medical centers in sympathy with AFSCME for one day on May 21.
PERB is the state agency that oversees collective bargaining activities for public employers. PERB's notification of its intent to seek a temporary restraining order limiting the number of striking employees in the two unions came after UC representatives successfully argued that walkouts by certain essential employees pose an imminent threat to public health and safety.
PERB officials told UC they intend to seek the injunction in Sacramento Superior Court on Monday (May 20). In its notification to UC, PERB indicated its injunction request will focus on those UC employees that, in PERB's view, work in critical health and safety positions.
UC patient care technical employees include technicians responsible for operating equipment for ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, mammograms and other tests; radiation therapists who prepare and treat cancer patients; pharmacy technicians who deliver medications to patients; respiratory therapists who help patients with breathing and treatment plans; and technicians who sterilize equipment used in surgeries.
Although each UC medical center has a contingency plan to ensure its doors stay open and patients receive quality care, a strike at UC medical centers can have significant impacts on patients and their families depending on which employees participate in the strike. Adult and child patients' diagnoses and treatments may be delayed because laboratory tests, imaging and other work normally performed by patient care employees may not be completed in a timely manner. Some elective surgeries, including pediatric surgery and neurosurgery, may be postponed. Additionally, critical trauma patients may need to be diverted to other non-UC facilities that provide a lower level of care.
"It is highly inappropriate to threaten services to patients as a tactic in contract negotiations," said Dwaine Duckett, vice president for systemwide human resources at UC. "We believe our current offer to AFSCME, which includes wage increases and good benefits, is very fair, and our pension reforms are similar to what has been implemented for state employees, some of whom are represented by AFSCME."
UC has been in negotiations with AFSCME since June 2012 over terms of a new labor contract for UC's patient care employees. The key issue in the negotiations is the union's ongoing resistance to UC's pension reforms, which include:
- Increased contributions toward the cost of pension benefits from both UC and employees (currently 10 and 5 percent respectively, increasing to 12 and 6.5 percent respectively July 1, 2013)
- A new category ("tier") of pension benefits for employees hired on or after July 1, 2013
- Revised eligibility rules for retiree health benefits
Eight UC unions representing 14 bargaining units have agreed to UC's pension reforms, which also apply to faculty and non-union staff hired on or after July 1, 2013.
Like many other employers, including the state of California, UC is enacting substantive pension reforms to help the university address a $24 billion unfunded pension plan liability, and enable it to continue offering employees financially sustainable pension benefits.
UC is offering AFSCME a competitive four-year contract for UC patient care employees that includes:
- Up to 3.5 percent wage increase per year for four years. These increases are on top of at least 5 percent increases patient care employees received in each of the past two years, at a time when many other UC employees received less or no increases at all.
- Excellent health care benefits now and upon retirement. Retiree health care is a benefit that few public or private organizations nationwide still offer.
- Pension benefits that few public or private organizations nationwide offer
- Good working conditions and a satisfying work environment
Duckett said UC's top priority is taking care of patients, and that UC will take whatever steps are necessary to keep its medical centers open and ensure quality patient care during a strike.
He also said UC remains open to compromise, but that leaders from both AFSCME and UPTE must engage substantively.
This is not the first time UC has had to pursue legal action against a strike threat from AFSCME. In July 2008, the union called on UC patient care employees to strike at all five UC medical centers. UC petitioned PERB to request a restraining order against the strike on UC's behalf. PERB issued a complaint against AFSCME for bad-faith bargaining and for encouraging employees who perform essential patient care functions to strike even though their absence from work would clearly endanger the public's safety. The Superior Court of San Francisco issued a restraining order prohibiting the union's strike.
More about these negotiations at http://ucal.us/PatientCareTechs