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Medical workers’ union to vote on proposed strike

AFSCME Local 3299 Union Negotiations With the UC: Main Issues

  • Pension reform: UC offering increased contributions to UC Retirement Plan in exchange for increased employee contributions; Union is not agreeing to these terms as of yet
  • Executive salaries: Union wants to see reform in compensation of UC executives
  • Jobs: Union wants conversion of temporary hires to career jobs
  • Staff levels: Union wants a third party to determine staff levels
SOURCE: UC Office of the President, AFSCME Local 3299 Compiled by Katherine Hafner, Bruin senior staff.

By Christopher Hurley

April 29, 2013 3:40 a.m.

The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

A union within the University of California that represents patient care technical workers will begin voting on Tuesday about whether or not to go on strike.

The 10 months of stalled negotiations between the UC and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ Local 3299 are part of a larger set of collective bargaining negotiations between the UC and the unions representing its workers, said Shelly Meron, a UC spokeswoman.

Meron said negotiations have largely focused on pension reform, reflecting an attempt by the UC to address the UC’s $24 billion unfunded liability, or payments the University is projected to owe in the future.

“We want to be financially secure for the next 10, 20, 30 years,” Meron said.

She added that 14 other UC worker unions and non-union employees have already agreed to the new terms that would change current pension contributions and reduce benefits for future hires.

Proposed per-year wage increases are already in place, and the UC’s offer proposes to keep the increases, said Kathryn Lybarger, the president of AFSCME Local 3299. In addition to a 1.5 percent wage increase, the UC is offering increased contributions to pension plans, from 10 percent to 12 percent, in exchange for increased employee contributions, from 5 percent to 6.5 percent, Meron said.

Negotiations between the UC and AFSCME Local 3299 began in June, but broke down at the end of 2012 after both sides failed to reach a compromise regarding the pension reform.

State representatives and a neutral fact-finder have since intervened to mediate between the two sides, said Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for the union.

He added that AFSCME Local 3299 is not looking to accept the UC’s offer, partly because the additional 1.5 percent pension contribution employees would make would offset the UC’s 1.5 percent wage increase offer.

AFSCME Local 3299 is also advocating for executive pay reform, pension reform, the conversion of temporary hires to career jobs and for a third party to determine appropriate numbers of staff at facilities, Stenhouse said.

But executive compensation represents such a small part of the UC budget that curbing it would not do much to solve the fiscal issues, Meron said.

Each side has accused the other of holding patient care hostage as a negotiating tactic, with the UC denouncing the strike for its possible effects on patients and the union saying that the UC has endangered patients with its layoffs.

Layoffs have begun around the system but most recently at UCSF’s hospital, where 1 percent of its workforce was laid off in the fall, Stenhouse said. He said the proposed reforms, coupled with recent layoffs and executive pay, represent both an issue of basic safety and fairness.

A recent report issued by AFSCME Local 3299 alleges that recent cutbacks in patient care staffing, like nurses and hospital custodians, have endangered patient safety at a time when patient numbers are expected to increase dramatically under new federal health care laws, such as the Affordable Care Act.

Union leaders have also said that they don’t think pension reform and layoffs are necessary at a time when UC medical centers continue to make hundreds of millions of dollars in profit.

The number of UC medical employees in administrative or managerial positions who make $400,000 or more has gone up by more than 500 percent since 2004, resulting in an increase of more than $100 million on the executive payroll, according to UC public data.

“You can buy a lot of MRIs, put a lot of nurses to work, and help a lot of patients with that money,” Stenhouse said.

He said the union decided to vote for a strike as a last resort.

“We wouldn’t do this if we thought there were any other options,” he said.

Enrique Rivero, a spokesman for UCLA Health Sciences, said there is a contingency plan in case the union decides to go on strike.

While no sources from either party could comment on the specifics of such a plan, they both agreed that there is one in place.

AFSCME Local 3299’s strong stance against the UC’s proposed pension reform may also impact the UC’s negotiations with unions that have yet to begin their own contract negotiations, said Jason Ball, a graduate student studying political science and chair of UC Student-Workers Union Local 2865.

AFSCME Local 3299 has historically been one of the few unions to consistently stand up to UC management, Ball said.

He said his union is keeping tabs on the UC’s negotiations with AFSCME Local 3299, and will use them to devise a plan for its own negotiations.

Ball said that if AFSCME Local 3299 members do decide to go on strike, the UC Student-Workers Union Local 2865 would like to support the members in any way they can.

“We hope that they don’t have to do that,” he said. “It’s a horrible thing for workers whenever they have to strike.”

If the vote to strike passes, Stenhouse said AFSCME Local 3299 will need to deliberate on when to start the strike.

Correction: The union represents patient care technical workers. 

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