UC Irvine Health workers picket medical center over layoffs

More than 100 UC Irvine Health workers used their work break or their day off Tuesday to picket at UCI Medical Center in Orange in response to 175 employee layoffs that began this month.

UC Irvine Health’s chief executive, Howard Federoff, informed staff of the layoffs through an email Oct. 3. Previous expense reductions and increased revenue through growth of the organization’s clinical services have “not been enough to avoid reductions in staff,” Federoff said in the email.

The layoffs are part of a plan to ensure the efficiency of the medical center’s clinical and education operations, officials said.

But picketers Tuesday questioned how eliminating employees in frontline positions such as nurses, admitting clerks and medical assistants would serve the center’s patients and improve its efficiency.

“When you go into the ER and you’re admitted, you need someone to coordinate that, and that doesn’t happen without these folks,” said Kathryn Lybarger, president of Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union that represents technicians, assistants and other service workers. “They’re the people who wheel you in your wheelchair, the people who draw blood or even the person who gives you a bowl if you’re about to throw up.”

Protesters also questioned why layoffs are needed when, they say, the medical center just had nearly $70 million in profit.

In the past fiscal year, the center had about $933 million in operating revenue and spent $864 million on salaries, pension benefits, medical supplies and other expenses, leaving it with about $68.7 million in net income from operations, according to a financial statement provided by UC Irvine Health spokesman John Murray.

According to Murray, academic medical centers like UCI’s have to provide expensive services such as research and residency training.

“The $68.7 million refers to an operating margin of what’s left after hospital expense,” Murray said. “However, there are additional expenses that we are obligated to fund, including $60.9 million for academic and research support.”

The protesters Tuesday hit several spots on the medical center’s campus, including the street facing the 5 Freeway, the UC Irvine Health Douglas Hospital and the neuropsychiatric center, where eight hospital assistants will be laid off, picketers said.

“We will fight,” Lybarger shouted as protesters huddled on the front lawn of the Douglas Hospital. “We will fight until every laid-off worker gets a job.”

Employees being let go have received notice of their layoffs, which take effect in early November.

The layoffs affect 68 workers represented by Local 3299 and also impact people such as secretaries, managers and interpreters.

UCI Medical Center had about 4,930 staff members before the layoffs began.

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10