Members of the union that represents 22,000 service workers and patient care employees at UC campuses and hospitals have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a possible strike in the future if a contract agreement is not reached, officials said Friday.
Ninety-six percent of the members of AFSCME 3299 voted to allow union leaders to call a strike if they decide it is necessary. If a strike happens, it would be the second this year and a potentially wider one, possibly affecting the 10 campuses and the five medical centers. In late May, the same union conducted a two-day strike at the UC hospitals.
The union members include UC custodians, gardeners, food workers, nursing assistants, scanning technicians, operating room scrubs and respiratory experts.
The union contends, among other issues, that reduced staffing levels are creating unsafe working conditions. The situation is "putting their patients, students and colleagues at risk," AFSCME 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger said in a statement issued Friday.
UC officials say that the main issue is that the union refuses to accept a new pension plan, similar to that of many other UC and state workers, that requires higher employee contributions and reduces long-term benefits for new hires.
Dianne Klein, a UC system spokesperson, said bargaining sessions are scheduled to start next week. "We are hopeful they will bargain in good faith and there is a chance to avoid the conflict," she said.
The tense labor situation comes as UC's new president, Janet Napolitano, will preside over her first UC regents meeting later this month. The union is expected to present their demands at that meeting.