After over a year of contentious negotiations, the University of California and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees labor union have tentatively reached an agreement on a new contract for the 11,000 patient care workers at UC hospitals around the state.
The agreement, announced Monday, includes $127 million in total wage increases over a five-year period and will move all workers to a minimum wage of $14.50/hour by the end of the contract. It also allows workers to collectively bargain for their pension and health care benefits.
“Our patient care employees play a vital role in helping UC medical and student health centers deliver top-quality patient care, and we are pleased to have reached an agreement that recognizes their many important contributions to the university and to the state,” said Shelley Nielsen, UC’s chief negotiator for the contract in a press release.
During the course of the negotiations, AFSCME rejected several UC offers based on claims that the wages weren’t market-competitive. The university responded by citing state budget constraints. The two were eventually able to come together under this agreement.
“Winning this historic contract has been a long and hard fight for all of our 20,000 plus members,” said Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME Local 3299. “We stood together and held our position until the leadership of the university agreed to address the crucial issues that affect workers and their ability to ensure quality patient care.“
The agreement was also able to include reasonable health care premiums thanks to a one-time subsidy UC is employing for its 2009 benefits. Health care costs beyond 2009 remain to be seen, however.
“It’s something that we have to go through every year,” said Paul Schwartz, spokesperson with the University of California Office of the President. “We renew our medical benefits every year just like other employers. It will depend on what rates are looking like then as well as what kind of resources we have.“
AFSCME represents 11,000 patient care workers such as medical assistants and hospital technicians, as well as 8,000 UC service workers like custodians and food service workers.
While patient care workers have reached an agreement, negotiations continue for service workers.
“We think [the patient care contract] is really a good agreement but we’re asking people not to forget the service workers without a contract,” Harrison said. “UC pays such low wages that 96 percent of [the workers] are eligible for public assistance.“
Negotiations for the service worker contract have recently stalled. Both sides have publicly stated their willingness to resume bargaining, but without results.
“We do continue to talk informally with union leadership but haven’t had formal bargaining sessions with leaders in some weeks and don’t have any scheduled,” Schwartz said.
UC has proposed a contract in which over the first 27 months, workers would see an increase in minimum wage from $10.28/hour to $13.25/hour. Since the bargaining process began, UC has more than tripled its wage offer for the contract’s first year and has proposed a total package worth 25 percent more than initially offered.
“I think the university is stuck on this state budget stuff,” Harrison said. “We don’t know what the hold up is because 80 percent of service workers‘ wages aren’t even dependent on the state budget. Only 20 percent come from the state budget.“
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