The University of California’s 13,000 patient-care technical workers are set to vote March 12-13 on whether to authorize an unfair labor practices strike.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 has repeatedly accused UC of unfair practices during 18 months negotiating. They include UC imposing its final contract offer last July, changes in employee health benefits and “regressive bargaining in the form of a new demand for sweeping new layoff powers.”
UC made that demand only recently, according to the union, which represents respiratory therapists, nursing aides and surgical technicians, as well as security guards and other hospital employees at UC’s five medical centers and student health centers.
“For months, we have been holding off on this (unfair labor practices) strike vote in the hopes that UC’s new president would put an end to this serial lawbreaking,” said Randall Johnson, a member of the union’s unfair labor practices committee.
“Instead, UC has doubled down, illegally introducing new bargaining demands at the 11th hour that would effectively force UC patients to play a game of Russian roulette on staffing in order to boost hospital profits. It’s clear that if we don’t stand up to UC’s unlawful conduct now, it will only get worse.”
A UC spokesperson declined to address specific allegations while the two sides remain at the table.
This would be the second time AFSCME has held an unfair labor practices strike in six months. The last came Nov. 20.
That strike followed the California Public Employment and Relations Board’s decision to file an unfair labor practices charge against UC, based on AFSCME complaints of threatening and intimidating behavior during a two-day health care worker strike the previous May. The matter is still pending before the board.
UC repeatedly has blamed the impasse on the union’s refusal to accept pension reform.
In July, after what it says was a year of good-faith bargaining, including state mediation, UC imposed a new pension and retiree health benefits program that includes an increase in the university’s contribution from 10 to 12 percent and an employee contribution increase from 5 to 6.5 percent.
The terms imposed also included a 2-percent step increase and a 1.5-percent wage increase.
Patient care workers received 5-percent raises in 2012 and 2013. They earn an average of $55,000 a year, according to UC, with a wide salary range depending on occupation: from $30,000 to $170,000.
“Today’s call for a strike is an example of AFSCME’s unnecessarily destructive and confrontational approach,” UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said in an email. “It comes even as AFSCME-represented service workers vote on a contract that AFSCME leadership has called fair and even historic.”
Klein’s comment refers to a tentative agreement between the university and the 8,300 gardeners, food service workers and custodians AFSCME also represents. They recently called off a planned strike after reaching a new deal that included a 13.5-percent across-the-board salary increase over four years. Many workers will receive raises totaling more than 19.5 percent over that period.
The service workers’ greatest win in their negotiations may have been freezing their health care costs — something no other UC union managed during recent negotiations.
The service workers have not yet voted to approve the contract terms.
UC says it cost $30 million to maintain critical patient services during AFSCME’s strikes in May and November.
— Reach Cory Golden at email@example.com or 530-747-8046. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden