Healthcare Workers Strike At Five California Hospitals
By: Robert Spence
Thousands of healthcare workers walked off the job at the University of California’s five medical centers on Tuesday, delaying surgeries, diagnostics procedures, treatments and emergency care throughout the state.
The Union representing 13,000 California Hospital employees said the strike is scheduled to last two days to draw attention to staffing shortages they say undermine patient care at the hospitals in San Francisco, Davis, Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine. The two-day walkout could cost the system’s medical centers up to $20 million.
AFSCME, the union representing healthcare workers, says UC refuses to ensure adequate staffing at its five medicate centers. Union rep Todd Stenhouse said that’s creating unsafe working conditions.
“Oftentimes now we’re asking fewer staff to do more with less. On a balance sheet, that may look great. If it’s your relative or your loved one that’s in that hospital, it doesn’t look so good,” Stenhouse said.
Stenhouse added the union also wants management to stop contracting out healthcare jobs to temps and volunteers.
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Some of the public hospital system’s estimated 3,400 pharmacists, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists and lab scientists also walked out on Tuesday in a one-day sympathy strike at the five medical centers.
University of California Vice President for Human Resources Dwaine Duckett said his organization had offered the workers a four-year contract with up to 3.5 percent annual wage increases. The average employee in the union earns $55,000 a year, he said
“The allegation is they’re doing this for patient safety,” UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said. “If we had unsafe staffing levels, we wouldn’t be in operation. I really don’t understand how walking off the job and leaving patients stranded is helping them.”
Klein says the sticking point in negotiations have been the union’s unwillingness to agree to changes to a pension system that most of the university’s other workers have already accepted.
“What AFSCME wants is a special deal for them, and we don’t think it’s fair,” she said.
Proposed changes include raising employee pension contributions, revising eligibility rules for retiree health benefits, and creating a second tier of retirement benefits for new workers.
Stenhouse said the union would be happy to deal with pension reform, but said management isn’t playing fair.