Court Issues Injunction Limiting Strike at UC Medical Centers

In response to a request filed by the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), the state's labor board responsible for overseeing public sector collective bargaining, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David l. Brown today (May 20) issued an injunction limiting the number of union employees that may strike UC medical centers.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents UC patient care workers, has announced it is asking members to strike UC medical centers on Tuesday and Wednesday, 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 UC health care professionals, announced it also is asking its members to strike UC medical centers in sympathy with AFSCME for one day on May 21.

A copy of the injunction is available here. (PDF) 

In bringing the matter to court, PERB issued a formal complaint against the unions asserting that encouraging employees who perform essential functions critical to patient health and safety to strike constitutes an unfair labor practice. The UC Office of the President today held a news conference calling attention to the impact the strike will have on patient care at the five medical centers.

“We appreciate the injunction and PERB’s complaint, even though both are more limited than what we were seeking, as we believe it’s completely inappropriate to put patients in the middle of a labor dispute and jeopardize essential services to them as a negotiating tactic,” said Dwaine Duckett, vice president for systemwide human resources at UC. “Leaders of both unions claim their chief concern is patient care, but it’s very simple: if they strike, services to patients suffer.”

Even with the injunction, Duckett said the threat of an AFSCME strike alone already is impacting patients. For example, UC San Francisco has had to postpone five surgeries for children with complex heart conditions, 12 pediatric chemotherapy infusions, and appointments for two women who need operations by fetal treatment center surgeons. At UC Davis Health System more than 45 surgeries, including cancer surgeries, and more than 500 radiological procedures have been postponed. At UC San Diego Medical Center, more than 120 surgeries in orthopedics, ophthalmology, gynecology, cardiac, urology and spine have been postponed, and 60 gastroenterology procedures have been postponed. UC medical centers in Los Angeles and Irvine are having to do likewise. If AFSCME goes through with its strike, it is also expected to affect UC students since AFSCME members work at student health centers.

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.

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.

UC’s pension reforms are similar to what has been implemented for state employees, some of whom are represented by AFSCME.

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 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

The average salary of all AFSCME patient care employees is $55,000. Average salaries for specific patient care positions include:

  • $96,265 — Respiratory Therapist
  • $90,626 — Radiologist Technologist
  • $59,654 — Vocational Nurse

The average salary of all UPTE health care employees is $96,600. Average salaries for specific health care employee positions include:

  • $139,295 — Staff Pharmacist
  • $91,317 — Licensed Clinical Social Worker
  • $89,349 — Clinical Lab Scientist
  • $86,316 — Occupational Therapist

In addition to cash compensation, UC offers employees a very attractive benefits package that includes health benefits, pension benefits, and retiree health insurance, which can represent an additional 25 percent to 40 percent of an employees’ annual pay.

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.

For more information about UC’s negotiations with the AFSCME, visit http://ucal.us/PatientCareTechs.