The University of California released a statement last Friday calling for a restraining order against major trade union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in response to the union’s plan to hold strikes at all UC medical centers May 21 to 22.
The two-day sympathy strikes were voted on by thousands of AFSCME Local 3299 members and on May 10, approximately 13,000 UC Patient Care Technical Workers within the union filed a 10-day notice to the UC Office of the President. The decision was reached in light of a new labor contract that will affect 12,500 patient care employees.
According to a statement released by AFSCME, the strike is the culmination of months of failed negotiation between the union and university-run medical centers over worker contracts. Todd Stenhouse, AFSCME Communications Director and Spokesperson, said the proposed strike was authorized by 97 percent of members in response to poor management of UC hospitals.
“This comes after a year of good-faith negotiations on our part to address first and foremost the issue of safe-staffing at UC hospitals,” Stenhouse said. “UC has increasingly been short-changing patients, and there has been a real cultural shift within the hospitals where you see more and more money going into the pockets of a growing group of executives and fewer resources going towards front-line care. This manifests itself into job cuts, outsourcing of experienced professionals and huge increases in the UC debt load.”
UCOP Media Specialist Shelly Meron said the UC Administrators see the strikes as unnecessary and potentially dangerous and have chosen to respond with legal action.
“State law requires that strikes be considered as only a last resort after all the other options have been exhausted and we just don’t think that AFSCME has explored all of these options,” Meron said.
According to Meron, the strikes will negatively impact patients and discourage them from seeking medical help or even entering the hospitals.
“Strikes can be a serious threat to public health when they are happening at medical centers,” Meron said. “The specifics differ from medical center to medical center, but it’s definitely a disruption and something that can really be a terrible event for their families and for other employees.”
Stenhouse said the strike’s impact on patient healthcare over the course of the two days will be negligible, since hospitals have plans in place for continuing operations despite the lack of employees.
“In the event there is a strike or dispute of this type, all hospitals have contingency plans in place,” Stenhouse said. “We care deeply and profoundly about our patients and we are joining this [strike] for our patients so the threat and risk to our patients, if we do nothing, is far worse than what this two-day strike could pose.”
While the Public Employment Relations Board is currently undecided as to whether it will attempt to enact the restraining order, a decision will be reached soon, according to Meron.
“We hope that in the next day or two, we’ll find out where they stand,” Meron said. “If they support our position, then they will go to court on UC’s behalf and seek that restraining order.”