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UC healthcare workers launch three-day strike over pay, outsourcing and insurance premiums

UC healthcare workers launch three-day strike over pay, outsourcing and insurance premiums
Thousands of striking UC workers, supporters and students march throughout the UCLA campus in May. (Robert Gauthier)

More than 15,000 University of California radiology technologists, nurse’s aides and other patient care workers have scheduled a three-day strike beginning Tuesday.

The workers with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 were expected to be joined by 24,000 other union members in a sympathy strike. The supporting strikers include service workers from AFSCME and pharmacists, physician assistants and other members of the University Professional & Technical Employees-CWA 9119.

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All 10 campuses and five medical centers are expected to remain open throughout the strike.

UCLA Health has retained temporary contract staff with “extensive qualifications and experience” to fill in, and outpatient clinics are offering after-hours and weekend appointments, officials said.

“All UCLA Health hospitals and clinics … will continue to provide safe, high-quality patient care,” Johnese Spisso, UCLA Health president, and Dr. Kelsey Martin, dean of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, said in an email to employees.

All four dining facilities in UCLA’s residence halls will remain open, but four smaller locations serving to-go meals will be closed.

UC San Diego Health has trained about 270 replacement workers to step in during the strike and will continue to operate its regional burn center and emergency and trauma departments.

“What’s important for the public to know is that safety is our priority,” Jacqueline Carr, UC San Diego Health spokeswoman, said in an email.

The union and university reached an impasse last year over disagreements about pay increases, healthcare premiums and outsourcing. AFSCME’s service workers called a three-day strike in May over similar issues.

AFSCME is asking for a 6% annual raise per year plus additional payments over four years; UC is offering 3% plus a onetime payment of $750 after a contract is ratified. The union is rejecting the university’s demands for higher healthcare premiums.

John de los Angeles, an AFSCME spokesman, said the union wants to stop outsourcing, which he said has led to a loss of middle-class jobs and growing pay inequity among workers.

“African Americans are disappearing from UC and women of color are paid far less than white males,” he said. “We believe outsourcing is exacerbating this problem.”

UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said that UC spending on outside contracting has stayed relatively flat, from $162.4 million in fiscal year 2016 to $166.8 million in fiscal year 2018. Meanwhile, Doan said, the number of AFSCME workers at UC has gone up from 21,323 in 2013 to 24,979 in 2018.

“As a negotiating tactic, this AFSCME-led strike is no more effective now than it was in May,” Doan said in an email. “Union leaders certainly have the right to express — even scream — their opinions, but the way to a deal is at the negotiating table, not on the picket lines.”

In recent months, UC has reached a labor agreement with United Auto Workers Local 2865, representing academic student employees, and the California Nurses Assn./National Nurses United. Both contracts provided 3% annual raises.

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