The University of California and nearly 20,000 patient care technicians and service workers have returned to the bargaining table – for now.
The American Federation of City, State and Local Employees Local 3299, which represents nearly 11,000 patient care technicians and 8,000 service workers, announced on May 23 that its members had almost unanimously approved a strike on June 4 and 5.
The patient care technicians have been negotiating their respective contracts with the UC for the last 10 months and the service workers for the last seven.
Though both parties said the return to the bargaining table was in good faith, the union has refused to rule out the possibility of a strike in the future.
“[The renewed negotiation] doesn’t remove our ability to strike,” said William Schlitz, a spokesperson for AFSCME Local 3299. “But right now, we really do want to get this resolved at the bargaining table.”
The terms “patient care technicians” and “service workers” encompass a variety of jobs, including medical technologists, medical assistants, custodians and food service workers. The two positions are classified separately because they are funded by different sources; service workers’ funding comes primarily from the state and patient care workers are funded by the individual medical centers.
On Apr. 19, a neutral fact-finder completed a report stating that the university’s proposed wage increases to the patient care technicians were not market competitive. UC dissented with the report and has maintained that it does not have the resources to meet the workers’ demands.
UC also filed charges against the union and requested a restraining order with the Public Employment Relations Board, which ordered the union to continue negotiations.
“We believe that the strike would present a public safety issue,” said Nicole Savickas, spokesperson for the University of California Office of the President. “Our patient care technician employees are vital to the operation of the medical centers.”
The university had been making contingency plans to protect its students and patients in the event of a strike, Savickas said.
The university has also charged the union with unfair bargaining tactics, claiming that AFSCME has linked the two separate contracts in negotiations. In a May 21 press release, the university stated that “it is clear that the union’s goal throughout bargaining has been to align the service unit negotiations with the patient care technical unit in order to allow for a combined work action.”
The union and UC released a joint statement on May 30 expressing their commitment to “bargaining in good faith” and that they hoped to “reach an agreement soon.”
Still, Schlitz said the UC and union remain far apart on such issues as wage increases, health benefits and mandatory overtime.
“I think there’s a lot of issues still on hand,” he said. “From our perspective, it comes back to equal pay for equal work.”
UC’s latest offer to the patient care technicians included $25 million in wage increases in the first year of the contract, with 2 to 4 percent increases over the following two years. The union has demanded wage increases of $50 million in the first year and 6 percent increases the two years after that, according to information provided by the UC Office of the President.
The union has also called for an increase in a variety of benefits, including higher on-call wages on holidays and an end to mandatory overtime.
In addition, the union has specifically accused UC of withholding its medical centers’ profits for wage increases, a charge that the university denies, Savickas said.
The union has claimed some service workers make “poverty wages” of as little as $10 per hour, and has proposed the same wage changes as the ones proposed for the patient care technicians.
But the university, citing state budget limitations, has offered to increase the service workers’ minimum wage from $11.50 to $12 per hour depending on location.
Leticia Garcia-Prado, a member of the union’s bargaining team, said some workers who have been employed at the UC for years have seen only marginal wage increases.
Garcia-Prado, a medical assistant at UC Davis’ Cowell Student Health Center, said workers remain with the university because they have invested years in their jobs.
“When you’ve been working for UC for 37 years, and you’re going to start somewhere else, where does that put you? How many people in their 50s or 60s are going to hire you? It’s time for UC to treat [workers] with dignity and respect.”
PATRICK McCARTNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.