On Nov. 1, AFSCME 3299, the union for UC service and patient care workers, voted to authorize an unfair labor practice strike over claims that UC management illegally intimidated UC hospital workers who struck in May. The strike vote was authorized with 96 percent of AFSCME 3299 members in favor of striking.
AFSCME 3299’s service and patient care workers will participate in a one-day unfair labor practice strike of all 10 UC campuses and five UC medical centers on Nov. 20. The union will be joined by members of the California Nurses Association and UC Santa Cruz’ Skilled Crafts Unit who will participate in a sympathy strike on the same date. Each union has given the UC a 10-day notice of their strike as bound by law.
An unfair labor practice strike calls for management to change their actions that are considered to be unfair practice.
According to Todd Stenhouse, AFSCME 3299 communications director, the strike authorization was a direct result of alleged threats made by administrators towards UC hospital workers when they participated in a contract strike over safe staffing protection back in May. Stenhouse claims that UC administrators illegally coerced healthcare workers with their jobs before and during the strike if they participated.
“When UC hospital workers participated in their first ever strike back in May, UC administrators literally pulled them aside and threatened their jobs if they exercised their collective bargaining rights,” Stenhouse said. Not only is that illegal, it creates an inherently unsafe work environment.”
Stenhouse claims threats were made UC system wide with 39 incidents of illegal worker intimidation. According to Stenhouse the strike authorization is more fundamental because it affects students and patients as well as workers.
“If the people who are closest to students and patients can’t advocate for their safety, that inherently puts students and patients at risk. So this is a critically important issue,” Stenhouse said.
According to Dianne Klein, UCOP media specialist, any alleged threats or illegal actions done by university administrators during the strike are denied by the UC. Klein claims that once aware of the strike, the university made preparations beforehand by asking employees whether they intended to come to work in order to predict staffing levels and prepare replacement workers. She claims that the university’s preparatory actions were legal.
“What we did was perfectly legal,” Klein said. “And that’s prudent if you’re going to run a hospital; you need to know how many employees that are going to show up to work.”
The process AFSCME 3299 went through for going on strike began with issuing a complaint to the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) which decides whether or not there is enough substantial evidence to warrant an investigation before the issue is scheduled before an administrative law judge who decides if there is any merit to the claims.
According to Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME 3299 president, after reviewing the charges, PERB believed there was substantial evidence to warrant investigation for the issue. However, Klein claims a scheduled hearing has yet to be arranged.
According to Stenhouse, the Unfair Labor Practice Committee within AFSCME 32999 will determine the date and duration of the strike now that it has been authorized. Stenhouse claims that AFSCME 3299 will honor the law that requires them to give the UC 10 days notice before striking and will take extra steps to protect hospital patients in the event of work stoppage through their Patient Protection Task Force.
Following the unfair labor practice strike authorization, AFSCME 3299 hopes to see clear accountability taken by the university and see administrators who contributed to the alleged threats disciplined or removed.
“There needs to be a level of accountability and UC needs to take steps to prevent its supervisors and managers from engaging in this type of conduct in the future,” Stenhouse said. “Have any of them been disciplined? We want to see the UC take tangible action to protect the workplace and to protect the safety and voice of workers.”
According to Lybarger, the negotiations made with the UC and the strike are not related. Negotiations that led to the contract strike in May are being made over safe staffing, particularly the automatic conversion of per diem workers to career status and the removal of contracting up.
“To wait five hours to even get any type of attention, to even have a nurse provide for you, I can’t even put the words in,” Liz Negrete, a UC Davis patient access representative said. “You can’t let someone, who could be us, sit there and suffer because you don’t want to put enough people on staff. Because we don’t have enough people.”
Additional AFSCME 3299 goals include wage increases for service and patient care workers, affordable and accessible health care and the removal of Paid Time Off, a policy that cuts into vacation and sick days for hospital workers.
According to Klein negotiations between AFSCME 3299 and the University are ongoing. Lybarger claims that the University has made no substantial movement to the union’s core issues. She claims that the University’s final offer included cuts to service and patient care workers, which she considered to be inadequate.
“We are still in negotiations. We are hopeful we can avoid a strike; nobody wants a strike,” Klein said.
AFSCME 3299 is the largest union in the UC system, representing around 22,000 UC workers in two units. This consists of around 8,000 service workers and around 13,000 patient care technical workers.
“We took on careers of public service at the university with a purpose of doing the best jobs we possibly could for the people who walk through those hospital doors and for the students who come to learn at one of the best public universities in the world,” Lybarger said.
While Stenhouse believes legal action taken against UC is a possible outcome, he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“Ultimately, sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Stenhouse said. “And when there’s illegal harassment, and illegal intimidation in a workplace, we will not sit silently and allow those who devote their lives to serving the public to be intimidated, harassed and bullied. There will be repercussions when that type of conduct takes place. Our workers stand united.”