Sacramento Superior Court Judge David Brown issued an injunction yesterday exempting certain union employees from participating in this week’s two-day strike of UC Medical Centers by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299.
The court-issued injunction will require approximately 100 Patient Care Technical Employees to work during today and tomorrow’s AFSCME strikes at UC Medical Centers in Davis, San Francisco, Irvine, Los Angeles and San Diego. The University of California and AFSCME have been in negotiation over the terms of a new labor contract since June 2012, and negotiations involve AFSCME’s 13,000 Patient Care Technical Workers — including respiratory therapists, nursing aids, MRI technologists, licensed vocational nurses and surgical technicians, amongst others.
AFSCME 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse said UC Medical employee strikers have asked for reforms such as safe staffing standards, staffing committees and enforceable pay, which he said would ensure a satisfying work environment in an otherwise underpaid workplace that offer disproportionately higher pay to top-level executives.
“Basically, workers are being asked to do more with less, while at the same time, UC executive payroll is going up $100 million a year,” Stenhouse said. “The executives are basically the fastest growing part of the UC workforce. You know we want to see the UC medical system be the crown jewel of California and that’s not going to happen when you shortchange patient care.”
However, UC Office of the President spokesperson Dianne Klein said the court injunction, accompanied by a temporary restraining order from the UC to AFSCME, dictates that specific UC medical employees are prohibited to strike due to the harmful impact such protests would have on UC medical care patients.
“The union said that 120 people are essential, which when you think about it, is pretty ironic because their message has always been ‘There’s not enough people,’ ‘We have staffing issues,’ etc.,” Klein said. “But they’re saying only 120 of their members are essential? We don’t believe that.”
Furthermore, Klein said the grievances held by many union members are not justified, as she said the pay of UC workers is fair.
“We’re talking about very skilled employees who get paid very well,” Klein said. “I mean the average in this unit is over $90,000 a year, and that’s just salary, not including pension.”
The pension reforms that many union members are resisting have been implemented for employees across the board — including some state employees represented by AFSCME, Klein said.
“The reason we did pension reform is because we have an unfunded liability that’s currently at $24 billion,” Klein said. “If we do not reform this, there will be no pension to pay out. So we have made a very fair offer to AFSME and they have not countered at all, they have just said no.”
But according to Stenhouse, AFSCME’s demands call for basic affordability and fair wages, not just pension reform. Stenhouse said the UC needs to address the disparity between executive salaries and the salaries of frontline care workers at UC medical centers.
“Let’s talk about why you’re protecting six figure golden handshakes for top executives at the expense of everything else,” Stenhouse said. “Let’s talk about why somebody who makes $35,000 a year has to subsidize the pension of someone who makes 1.4 million a year. This is not Goldman Sachs, this is the University of California.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF Kenneth Song
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of May 21st’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.