November 21, 2013
City New Service
Thousands of University of California health care workers alleging unfair labor practices took part in a one-day strike today at hospitals in Westwood, Santa Monica, Irvine and across the state — a job action UC officials said reduces patients to “bargaining chips” in a work dispute.
Patient care technical workers and service workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 planned to picket throughout the day at hospitals, including Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UC Irvine Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica. The union represents more than 22,000 UC hospital workers across the state.
Labor rallies were held on the UC Irvine campus and at UCI Medical Center in Orange.
“They went really well,” said Ebony Meeks of AFSCME, who participated in the Orange County rallies. “And they were well-attended.”
About 250 union members participated in the rally at UCI and another 250 rallied at the hospital in Orange, Meeks said.
“We’ve been marching since 6 a.m. and we’ll be marching until 6 p.m. We’re energized and ready to go,” Meeks said.
Union officials accuse hospital administrators of harassing and intimidating workers who advocated for “safe staffing standards” by taking part in a two-day walkout in May.
AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger said union members have “both the legal right and more responsibility” to stand up for the safety of students and other patients.
“By attempting to silence workers, UC hasn’t just repeatedly broken the law — it has willfully endangered all who come to UC to learn, to heal and to build a better life for their families,” she said.
Dr. John Stobo, senior vice president for UC Health Sciences and Services, countered that money is at the heart of the dispute, not concern for patients.
“By calling for a strike for a second time in seven months, AFSCME leaders again are putting patients at UC medical centers and student health centers in the middle of a labor dispute,” Stobo said. “This is completely inappropriate and unfair to the people we are here to serve. Our patients and students are not bargaining chips. They deserve better.”
Stobo said the university made updated offers to the union earlier this month “and showed significant movement on wages pensions, health care benefits and other issues. AFSCME rejected all of our offers.”
“We have the highest standards of excellence and we will continue delivering care that meets those standards during this strike,” he said. “Still, this strike by AFSCME will hurt the very patients the union claims to be protecting, which makes us believe it can only be about one thing — money.”
Stobo noted that more than 100 patients have had elective surgeries canceled due to the strike, and one patient will have a planned kidney transplant delayed.
Union officials said they were committed to patient protection, saying they have formed a task force to handle emergency needs at the hospitals during the strike and have exempted dozens of critical care workers from taking part in the walkout.
Members of the California Nurses Association had been scheduled to join the walkout in a show of solidarity, but it announced over the weekend it had reached a tentative contract deal with the UC system and would not be taking part in the strike.
Patient care technical workers include technicians for ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs, mammograms and other tests, radiation therapists for cancer patients, pharmacy technicians and respiratory therapists, according to UC.
On Tuesday, a judge in Sacramento issued an injunction limiting the number of workers who can take part in the strike to ensure employees who perform essential functions remain on the job.
UCLA Health officials said the hospitals in Westwood and Santa Monica were open, although 20 percent of elective surgeries scheduled for the day have been postponed. About 325 replacement workers and “redeployed” administrative staff filled in for striking workers, according to UCLA.
The striking union represents about 3,800 employees in the UCLA Health System.