By Laird Harrison
It’s not a great time to get sick in the Bay Area.
Workers are planning a strike at University of California San Francisco and the four other UC medical centers up and down the state Tuesday and Wednesday, May 21 and 22.
Meanwhile, nurses in the East Bay are staging a separate strike at Sutter Hospitals for seven days, starting Friday.
The East Bay walkout will affect more than 3,100 registered nurses, as well as respiratory, X-ray and other technicians at Alta Bates Summit facilities in Berkeley and Oakland, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and Sutter Delta in Antioch, the California Nurses Association said.
And a strike May 23 and 24 will affect 1,400 RNs at two HCA-affiliated San Jose hospitals, Good Samaritan and Regional Medical Center, it said.
The university is pushing back on the strike at its medical centers. It persuaded the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to seek a temporary restraining order that would “curtail the number of striking employees,” the university announced in a statement on Friday.
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 union, which represents about 3,300 UC health care professionals, is also asking its members to strike UC medical centers in sympathy with AFSCME for one day on Tuesday.
PERB is the state agency that oversees collective bargaining activities for public employers. It announced it would seek a temporary restraining order limiting the number of striking employees in the two unions after UC representatives argued that walkouts by certain essential employees threaten public health.
PERB officials told UC they intend to seek the injunction in Sacramento Superior Court on Monday, the university said.
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.
The university warned in a press release that diagnoses and treatments for both adults and children might 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.”
The union says it has a “patient protection task force that will tend to patients’ emergency needs during the strike.”
On Friday a resolution looked distant as the two sides couldn’t even agree about the grounds for their disagreement. Here’s how the university characterizes the issues:
The two sides have split over the question of pension reforms.
The university has asked for:
- 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
But in a conversation with KQED’s Francesca Segré, AFSCME Local 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger stressed staffing levels. The union wants the hospital to increase staffing and hire fewer temporary workers.
“What we’re looking for are enforceable safe staffing standards,” she said. “We’re looking for an end to contracting out to less experienced workers. We would like to see an end to, honestly, an outrageous difference between what the people at the top of UC are getting compensated and those at the bottom, who can’t even afford to send their own kids to the UC.”