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Strike at UC medical centers continues; more picketing Wednesday

As the afternoon wore on, the number of union members on the picket lines at the University of California medical centers started to thin. But hundreds of workers concerned about staffing levels and pension reforms planned to continue striking throughout the evening.

Union spokesman Todd Stenhouse said that the decision to strike was a difficult one for many.

“These folks would not have gone out if they didn’t believe their patients were at risk,” he said.

One of the strikers, Johnnie Macon, said he has worked at UCLA for 19 years. He works in the operating rooms and said there are not enough staff doing what he does.

“I feel like I am overworked and not being compensated for it,” he said.

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Stenhouse said there were no problems at any of the medical centers. At UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, a union member was asked by the hospital to help with CT scans in the emergency room and did just that.

Because of the planned two-day walkout, hundreds of surgeries were postponed and patients were diverted to other hospital emergency rooms. The cost to the five UC medical centers could reach $20 million, officials said.

Dianne Klein, spokeswoman for the UC president’s office, said hospital administrators were pleased that many union members decided to cross the picket line.

“These are dedicated professionals who take their jobs and their patients very seriously,” she said. “Systemwide, well over half of our union-represented employees who were scheduled to work showed up to do their jobs Tuesday. In the most critical positions, that percentage was often over 90%.”

At UC San Francisco Medical Center and UC San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital, 1,095 AFSCME patient care workers and employees from two other unions were scheduled to work during two shifts Tuesday. Of those, 601 crossed the picket lines and worked, said Dr. Josh Adler, chief medical officer.

Adler said that his hospitals performed “reasonably well” during the first day of the strike, largely because of advance planning and bringing in “a lot more nurses.”

“We provided good care to the patients who were here,” Adler said. “They got all the medicines that they needed. We believe they got all of the testing and care that they needed.”

However, the hospitals provided “uneven service,” he said, because it was impossible to know until the beginning of a given shift just how many workers would show up.

The hospital usually has 505 patients at any given time. By Tuesday evening, the census was down to around 350. Elective surgeries were canceled, and the emergency department did not accept any new patients.

“Tomorrow we will do a new assessment,” Adler said. “If we are able to reopen to ambulances, we will. We do not have plans to reopen the surgery schedule or the invasive procedure schedule.”

The strikers, including respiratory therapists and pharmacy technicians, plan to return to the picket lines early Wednesday morning.

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

maria.laganga@latimes.com

Gorman reported from Los Angeles, and La Ganga reported from San Francisco.


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