The more than 20,000 patient care technicians and service workers throughout the 10 campuses of the University of California system are prepared to take a strike vote after a 10-month impasse. The vote began Saturday and runs through Thursday concluding with a press conference the next day to announce the results.
Talks began in August 2007, but the UC hasn’t budged at all, said Leticia Garcia-Prado, a medical assistant at Cowell Student Health Center.
“We hope that they see that we are vital to campus health centers and realize how much we do and the effect that we have,” she said.
Garcia-Prado is one of the more than 3,000 patient care technicians and service workers on the UC Davis campus. Many of these service workers live in poverty with wages as low as $10 per hour, while community colleges and non-UC hospitals offer an average of 25 percent more for the same work.
Patient care techs and service workers are responsible for everything from assisting in surgery to cleaning campus dorms.
Nicole Savickas, HR communications coordinator for the University of California Office of the President explained the difference between the two jobs.
“Patient care techs work in medical centers, while service workers may work on campuses or in medical centers,” she said. “In our proposals to the union, we have differentiated them because they are different and are funded from different sources.”
AFSCME, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, is negotiating on both workers’ behalf.
The UC and AFSCME consulted a neutral fact-finder on both situations. One of the most hotly contested issues is hours of work.
According to information from the office of the president, AFSCME asserts that patient care techs need over $50 million in wage increases with a 9 percent increase to individuals and substantial range increases in Year 1 and that the minimum pay rate should rise to 14.50 and $15 an hour for classifications that require a license. Years 2 and 3 should bring a 6 percent increase to individuals and ranges, and the minimum pay should raise 25 cents per hour each year.
The university’s position on patient care tech wages calls for an $18 million increase in wages, with anywhere from a 4 to 15 percent increase to individuals. Each employee would then be placed onto a step pay structure based on a minimum of his/her years of experience in his/her job. For Years 2 and 3, the UC suggests a 2 percent increase.
The neutral fact-finder ruled that there should be a 5 percent increase to individuals and ranges in Year 1, approved the UC’s step pay structure and found that Year 2 should bring a 3.5 percent increase to individuals, and Year 3 a 3 percent increase.
AFSCME proposed the same changes in wages for service workers as for patient care techs, but the university proposal varied greatly, suggesting a minimum rate of $10.74 per hour in Southern California and $11.50 per hour in Northern California, which would cost them about $500,000 more than they paid workers this year.
Savickas clarified that the disparity in proposed salaries is because service workers are paid for by the state instead of the UC system.
“But AFSCME is only publicizing the UC recommendations for service workers to make it seem that we’re that far away from their proposal,” she said.
The fact finder found that service workers deserved wages similar to those of the patient care techs, prompting the UC systems to issue a dissent with a reminder that the amount of money they can give to service workers is out of their hands.
Another critical issue is hours of work. For overtime work, AFSCME proposes that workers should receive 1.5 times normal pay when working after shift and twice pay if they reach 12 hours. Sick leave, vacation and holiday hours should also be credited as hours worked for purposes of achieving overtime after 40 or 80 hours.
Garcia-Prado said that mandatory overtime takes a toll on many of her co-workers.
“Whether you have to stay overtime on one shift or work 14 or 15 hours and then come back the next day, it’s a big safety issue,” she said. “Some of these are techs that are taking patients’ lives into their hands, others are parents who have to go home and care for their families – it’s so important for these people to be rested.”
AFSCME claims that if workers are called in on-call, they shall receive 40 percent on-call pay with a minimum of three hours pay at the 1.5 times rate and 75 percent should they have to come in on holidays. They also suggest that employees be paid an additional 15 minutes per missed rest break.
The UC agrees with AFSCME’s escalating pay proposal, but insists on maintaining the ability to mandate overtime. They also state that the current on-call system is fine.
The conclusion reached by the fact finder is agreed with the UC system, allowing them to retain the power to mandate overtime. The fact finder did however compromise with AFSCME regarding on-call pay and ruled that workers shall get 25 percent on-call pay with a minimum of two hours pay if they are called in.
Throughout the week, people will be coming to UC Medical Center and campus student health centers explaining the situation to workers and giving them the chance to vote for a strike.
“We’re not happy about the fact that they’ve decided to hold a strike vote rather than bargain, but we’re prepared to deal with it,” said Savickas. “We have contingency plans in place for all campuses and medical centers and are prepared to hire temporary workers if necessary.”
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at email@example.com.