State Labor Board Seeks Injunction Regarding Union Strikes at UC Medical Centers

Strikes Slated to Occur on May 21 and May 22

May 17, 2013

The California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) will seek a temporary restraining order to curtail the number of striking employees by two University of California unions at UC’s five medical centers, the University learned late May 16.

UC Senior VP for Health Sciences Issues Statement About Strike

John Stobo, MD, senior vice president for Health Sciences and Services, made the following statement on May 17 about the human impact of a strike scheduled for next week at University of California medical centers:

“We will do everything possible to ensure the safety of patients at UC hospitals, and that will cost up to $20 million across the five UC medical centers. But the real cost is the human one.

“If employees represented by AFSCME and UPTE strike, it will mean cancer patients may have their chemotherapy curtailed. It will mean a burn victim may have to be diverted from the UC Davis burn treatment center. It will mean someone suffering from chest pains may have to travel an additional 15 minutes for treatment because a UC emergency room is backed up for lack of staff.

“At the Regents meeting this week, AFSCME representatives shouted, ‘Shame on you.’ I say, Shame on them. 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. If union members are as concerned with patient safety as they claim, why strike? How does that help anyone? What will happen to people who need care?

“To resolve pension and other outstanding labor issues, the union leadership should return to the bargaining table rather than force UC medical centers to curtail services. There are no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ about it. If union-represented employees strike, people will suffer.”

On May 10, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, which represents more than 12,500 UC patient care employees, announced it is asking members to strike UC's five medical centers on May 21 and 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.”

Key Issues on the Bargaining Table

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 percent 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; and
  • 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 information about these negotiations can be found on this website http://ucal.us/PatientCareTechs