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Editorial: The UC’s poor bargaining threatens livelihoods of optometrists, care for patients

By Editorial Board

Feb. 19, 2024 7:26 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 19 at 10:28 p.m.

On Feb. 6, optometrists at UCLA and across the UC went on a two-day strike, and it is not hard to see why they are fed up.

Optometrists under University Professional & Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 decided to take to the picket lines after a year of bad-faith bargaining by the UC. Slowed negotiations and lack of transparency on topics including pay scale placement have led to a considerable number of optometrists taking new jobs elsewhere. This trend is anything but beneficial for UCLA, an institution that touts its fifth-place ranking for eye care per US News & World Report proudly on its webpage.

As of Monday, there has been no resolution or agreement met between the UPTE-CWA and the UC. In fact, a spokesperson from the UC Office of the President said they felt the work stoppage to be “unlawful.” In retaliation, the UC filed an unfair labor charge against the optometrists while simultaneously maintaining that it remains committed to bargaining in good faith with the union.

The UC must act on its displayed commitment to bargain in good faith with optometrists not only at UCLA but also across the entire UC system.

Optometrists are not the only ones who would benefit from more transparency and fair bargaining with the UC. In the midst of it all, it is the patients who arguably have encountered the ramifications. The implications of inadequate eye care are clear cut: Delaying proper treatment can lead to higher risks of unnoticed eye conditions, eye damage and a loss of vision in glaucoma cases, according to an optometrist at UC San Francisco.

When it comes to health care workers, the effects of unfair labor practices are twofold: Both the workers and the patients who depend on those workers are worse off. This makes it doubly important for the UC to reach an agreement with the representatives of UPTE-CWA.

The issue isn’t restricted to one or a few UC campuses. Over 80 optometrists and 18,000 supporters were represented in protests across UC campuses in San Francisco, San Diego, Davis and Los Angeles. UCLA optometrists were joined by UC Irvine optometrists and community members to participate in the strike.

As optometrists across the state withhold their services to fight for their rights, the UC must see the gravity of the issue as a detriment not only to optometrists’ livelihoods but also to the patients.

With some waiting six to eight months for an appointment and sometimes coming with referrals from hospitals that may not have the expertise to treat certain conditions, patients find that frustration and unmet needs are the norm. Often serving vulnerable patient populations, UC optometrists see nearly 15 patients on a daily basis and increasingly face unmanageable work schedules, with many workers leaving for better wages and working conditions.

The helplessness felt on both ends can only be relieved by the UC, whose lack of loyalty to its workers and students will perpetuate the increasing impact on workers’ livelihoods and patients’ health.

With the steady increases in funding over the years, the UC must properly allocate its attention and resources to all groups in its ecosystem, especially to issues that infringe upon groups that provide critical services.

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