As University of California patient care workers returned to the picket lines in a workplace dispute Wednesday, hospital administrators said they were gratified that so many union members chose to come to work rather than strike.
More than three-quarters of the union employees scheduled to work Tuesday did so, said Dianne Klein, spokeswoman for the UC office of the president. Hospital officials said they expected a similar turnout Wednesday.
There was a disconnect between workers and the union leadership of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Klein said. “The [union] leadership is engaged in this game of brinkmanship,” she said. “It was a risky strategy. And it was an irresponsible one.”
The strike led to delays and disruptions in care as administrators rescheduled surgeries, scans and tests. UC officials said they spent millions preparing for the strike and hiring replacement workers at the centers in Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.
Because so many workers showed up for their shifts, both UC Davis and UC Irvine were actually overstaffed, officials said. The union members include respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians and nursing assistants.
At Irvine, about 77% of the union members reported to work for their Tuesday night shifts, spokesman John Murray said. During the two-day strike, which is set to end at 4 a.m. Thursday, the hospital is diverting ambulances from the emergency room and performing far fewer surgeries than usual, Murray said. The hospital’s patient census on Wednesday was 270, down from its usual 300.
At UCLA, about 80% of the AFSCME union members came to work. The patient census also was down about 15%, and many non-essential surgeries were postponed. The hospital’s emergency room stayed open and surgeons continued with operations that could not be rescheduled.
Union members said they hoped the strike would bring attention to their concerns, including understaffing and pension reforms.
Jenny Takakura was one of the workers picketing outside of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Wednesday. Takakura, a radiation therapist who works with cancer patients, said her department is so short-staffed that she feels pressure to come to work even when she is sick.
“I came out here for the patients,” Takakura said. “Patient care is just not what it should be.”
Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for UCLA Health Systems, said he wished the union would return to the bargaining table rather than stay out on the streets. “It’s hard to negotiate with someone who has a bullhorn,” he said.
But Takakura said UC officials could have stopped the strike. “They are not listening to us,” she said. “This is the only way I think that we can keep our patients safe.”