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UC hospital workers, custodians begin one-day strike

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The union that represents 22,000 employees at UC campuses and medical centers began a one-day strike early Wednesday morning at the system's nine campuses and five medical centers. 

Service workers, patient care employees and student tutors are among those striking. In preparation for the strike, some elective surgeries and treatments have been postponed at the system’s hospitals and replacement workers are being hired, officials said.

The picketing began Wednesday morning and is expected to continue until 7 p.m.

“It’s really going great.… Turnout has actually been extraordinarily strong,” said Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. “I can tell you thousands are already out statewide.”

At the UCLA campus, AFSCME Local 3299 spokesman Kevin Brown said hundreds of supporters had already turned out and they were prepared to picket until 7 p.m.

“We’re out here rallying for our rights,” Brown said. 

The main strike is by the union that represents 22,000 custodians, gardeners, food workers, respiratory therapists, radiology technicians and others at UC’s five medical centers and nine of its campuses. AFSCME 3299 conducted a two-day strike at the hospitals in May and now its leaders contend that UC administrators are seeking to enforce unfair labor practices and dangerously low staffing levels.

UC administrators had urged the union to call off its strike and resume talks. They deny allegations of harassment and contend that the main sticking points in contract negotiations include the union’s resistance to higher employee contributions for pensions that other workers already pay.

AFSCME Local 3299 says it is ready to talk again and that the strike is not related to bargaining but is intended to protest what it contends was intimidation of workers who participated in the May walkout.

The anticipated strike lost some of its potential punch over the weekend when UC reached a four-year tentative contract agreement with the California Nurses Assn., which represents about 11,700 nurses at UC facilities. The nurses previously had been set to take part in a sympathy walkout on Wednesday but now have decided not to join the strike.

However, the union that represents 12,000 student tutors, readers and teaching assistants is set to strike in sympathy. The UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865 is urging its members not to conduct in-class activities for the day and to join in rallies on campuses.

A Superior Court judge in Sacramento, at the request of the state Public Employment Relations Board, on Tuesday barred 50 or so specialized medical workers, mainly respiratory therapists, from joining the strike. Their union said it already had exempted those employees from the walkout. In addition, the union says its workers will be available to help in any emergencies at medical centers at UCLA and in Irvine, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.

UCLA's Health System, which includes facilities in Westwood and Santa Monica, announced the postponement of about 20% of elective surgeries scheduled for the day and said that about 325 replacement workers and redeployed administration staff will fill in for striking workers. Officials estimated the cost will be $2.5 million in lost revenue and extra expenses.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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