Fong Chuu is a registered nurse who has assisted with countless liver transplants, kidney surgeries and gastric bypasses during 34 years at UCLA.
Working with her are scrub technicians who sterilize equipment, hand medical instruments to the surgeon and dress patient wounds.
They are a team, Chuu says, which is why she walked off her job Tuesday in support of those technicians and other members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. The 25,000 member AFSCME local, the University of California’s largest employee union, launched a three-day strike Monday.
All UC campuses and medical centers were open but operating with limited medical, dining and custodial services.
“We work with them day in and day out,” Chuu said of the strikers during a phone interview from the picket lines. “We want them to have better wages and working conditions so we can work together better and take care of our patients.”
Chuu’s union, the California Nurses Assn., supported AFSCME in a sympathy strike Tuesday, widening the labor walkout across the UC system. About 14,000 members of the nurses association work at UC’s medical centers and student health clinics.
Also striking in sympathy were the University Professional & Technical Employees, whose 15,000 members include pharmacists, clinical social workers, physical therapists, computer technicians and researchers.
Some individual members of UAW Local 2865, which represents graduate students who teach, tutor and grade assignments, also joined the strike or used it as a teaching opportunity.
Kavitha Iyengar, a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley, told her supervisors that during the strike she would not attend meetings to plan for Friday’s final exam, hold office hours, grade assignments or respond to work emails. The struggles of UC’s low-income workers, she said, exemplify the issues she teaches about in a course on the nation’s class inequities.
Alli Carlisle, a doctoral candidate in UCLA’s Spanish and Portuguese department, said she planned to bring her 18 students to the picket lines Tuesday. She crafted a lesson plan for her class, Queer Cuba, to explore the intersection of labor organizing and LGBTQ issues.
“Being part of the excitement and feeling the emotion of workers on the picket lines is a really important learning tool that students are not often exposed to,” she said.
It was not clear how many people joined the sympathy strike. UC San Diego said more than 120 nurses crossed the picket line. At UC Santa Barbara, about 10% of more than 300 members of the University Professional & Technical Employees participated, said Bill Fitzpatrick, a senior construction inspector.
He and other leaders of the technical employees union said they wanted to support AFSCME but not with a full walkout that could endanger public health and safety.
“We want to make a splash but we don’t want to shut down the hospital,” said Greg Wine, a UPTE officer and clinical dietitian at UC Davis Medical Center. “These are our patients.”
The three unions assembled a Patient Protection Task Force to respond to medical emergencies. UC officials, to protect public safety, obtained a temporary restraining order barring certain essential employees from leaving their jobs. The medical centers have rescheduled thousands of surgeries, cancer treatments and appointments.
AFSCME and the university hit a bargaining impasse last year. The union is demanding a multiyear contract with annual pay raises of 6%, no increase in healthcare premiums and continued full pension benefits at the retirement age of 60.
The university is offering 3% annually over four years, which officials say is equal to raises given to other UC employees. UC also wants to raise the retirement age to 65 for new employees who choose a pension instead of a 401(k) plan and to raise monthly health insurance premiums by a maximum $25.