UC and union reach one agreement; strike vote to be taken as negotiations over another falter

After more than 20 months of bargaining, AFSCME Local 3299 and the University of California System (UC) reached a tentative agreement that the union leadership called “historic.”

The agreement covers 8,300 service workers at UC’s nine academic campuses.

Local 3299 and UC still have not reached an agreement on a new contract that covers 13,000 patient care and technical workers at UC’s five medical centers.

The union accuses UC of “serial lawbreaking” because of its repeated attempts to undermine collective bargaining at the medical centers and said that medical center workers will vote March 12-13 on whether to authorize an unfair labor practices strike.

“For months, we have been holding off on this (unfair labor practices) ULP strike vote in the hopes that UC’s new president would put an end to this serial lawbreaking,” said Randall Johnson a Local 3299 ULP committee member and patient care worker . “Instead, UC has doubled down, illegally introducing new bargaining demands at the 11th hour that would effectively force UC patients to play a game of Russian Roulette on staffing in order to boost hospital profits. It’s clear that if we don’t stand up to UC’s unlawful conduct now, it will only get worse.”

Last July after more than a year of negotiations, UC unilaterally implemented some terms of its contract proposal at its medical centers. The new terms increased worker health care costs and pensions contributions.

Despite what the union called UC’s bad faith approach to negotiations, Local 3299 continued to bargain.

From the outset of negotiations, Local 3299’s priority has been patient safety and safe staffing levels, but UC has been unresponsive.

To make matters worse, UC recently introduced a new demand that wasn’t previously on the table. UC wants to give hospital administrators unlimited layoff powers in situations that management defines as an emergency.

The union responded that such unlimited powers could worsen patient safety by raising patient to staff ratios.

Heightening union safety concerns is the fact that two UC medical centers, one in Davis and one in Los Angeles, in August were fined $50,000 apiece by the California Department of Public Health for failing to ensure the health and safety of patients.

“These penalties highlight the concerns that our membership has been raising for years–that mismanagement and chronic understaffing has made UC Hospitals increasingly dangerous places for the communities they serve,” said Kathy Lybarger, Local 3299 president  in a statement issued after the fines were announced. “The fact is that instead of investing in basic safeguards for patients, UC Hospital executives are cutting corners on care in order line their own pockets. That’s not how you build a world class health delivery system—it’s how you degrade one.”

Lybarger said that the March strike vote is intended to send a message to UC administrators that the union isn’t backing down from its safe staffing demand. She called UC’s new demand another example of UC’s bad faith approach to bargaining.

She added that UC’s bad faith bargaining wasn’t just a threat to union members “but to the colleagues, patients, and students, who depend of (Local 3299 members) every day” as well.

UC service workers at its academic campus had been prepared to go on strike themselves. They had recently voted overwhelming for a five-day unfair labor practices strike that was to begin March 3.

The strike however was called off at the last minute when UC and Local 3299 reached an agreement that raises pay by 13.5 percent over the four years of the contract, provides more protections against contracting out work, freezes health care premiums for active and retired employees, and eliminates UC’s paid time off scheme that reduces workers’ paid vacation and sick leave by combining the two.

In September, UC unilaterally implemented some terms of its contract proposal. For example, it increased employee and retiree health care costs. The new agreement reduces some of these costs.

But the union did agree to some concessions to reach a final agreement, most notably it agreed to increase worker pension contributions by 1.5 percent.

When Lybarger announced the tentative agreement she recognized the fact that the union had agreed to some concessions including higher pension contributions, but noted that the agreement will “pull thousands of its full-time (UC) employees out of poverty and begin to rectify staffing practices that needlessly put our members and the people they serve at risk.”

“(The new agreement) honors the contributions that career service workers make to this institution, as well as UC’s responsibility to build ladders to the middle class,” said Lybarger.” Our members are deeply grateful to the thousands of students, faculty, colleagues, elected officials, and everyday taxpayers who have stood with us, and stood for the principles of fairness and dignity that bind every member of the UC community.”

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