University of California Police arrested 13 people at the UC Board of Regents meeting yesterday morning during a demonstration in support of a UC patient care and service workers union in their ongoing labor contract dispute with the University.
In addition to the sit-in, about 100 members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 picketed outside the Sacramento Convention Center where the meeting was being held, carrying signs and figurine caricatures of various officials including UC President Mark Yudof. The arrested protesters were cited for unlawful assembly and released shortly afterward, according to AFSCME spokesperson Todd Stenhouse.
The union announced last Friday that it will be staging a UC-wide strike involving almost 13,000 workers across the five UC medical centers on May 21 and 22, prompting the University to seek a restraining order against the organization. The rally and planned strike are the culmination of about 10 months of unsuccessful negotiations between the union and the UC over labor contracts.
Stenhouse said he is disappointed with the way the University is attempting to implement cuts to staff wages and pension contribution increases while neglecting to cap executive level salaries.
“The UC has elected to divert millions of millions of dollars from frontline patient care. That undermines safe staffing,” Stenhouse said. “We have increasing outsourcing of frontline care jobs to inexperienced workers, temps and volunteers even, and that may look good on a balance sheet, but it looks terrible if it’s your grandmother in that hospital.”
Despite these claims, UCOP Human Resources Vice President Dwaine Duckett said the patient care workers are currently set to receive a raise in wages by July and have seen regular pay increases in the past.
“They’ve received consistent raises as early or late as this fall and are scheduled to receive another increase during this period of time leading up to July, so while they are on strike they will be in line for another pay increase,” Duckett said.
Duckett said the University will do anything in its power to halt the impending strike, which it claims would be extremely dangerous to the health of the patients of the five medical centers.
“We’re doing everything we can — appealing to PERB [Public Employee Relations Board] and any other body that will listen to us if necessary to avoid the strike,” Duckett said.
However, Stenhouse said patient care is the union’s most important priority, and the union has made accommodations for ensuring patient safety at the hospitals throughout the duration of the strike.
Randall Johnson, an MRI technologist at the UC San Francisco Medical Center said the lack of involvement of the workers in the staffing process is one of the main problems the strike aims to address.
“We want safe staffing and we want to be able to be a part of that process and we want to be able to arbitrate that process because we believe our staffing is completely controlled by people who don’t touch patients,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the disparity between high-level executive salaries and service worker wages is also a huge factor in the justification for the strike.
“They should not be making the money they are making,” Johnson said. “We, actually, in southern California have people whose pay is so low that they are eligible for state benefits. I’m sorry, that’s just inexcusable.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF Kenneth Song
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the May 16th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus