Next week, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 will vote to authorize their third strike in nine months at University of California medical centers, where union leaders claim staffing levels are so low that patient lives are endangered and the quality of care has plummeted.
They say the staggering costs of such strikes to our nonprofit medical system — already more than $30 million, or the equivalent of educating 150 doctors for four years — are the price that must be paid to set things right.
It was that rationale, in fact, that AFSCME used in June when it asked the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to order a state audit of UCLA and UC San Francisco medical centers. I was at the committee hearing myself and listened to a litany of union allegations: that our doctors do too little charity care, that our executives are paid more than they’re worth and that working conditions are unsafe.
Last week, the state auditor released the results of her exhaustive probe, the cost of which was estimated to be close to $300,000 in taxpayer funds.
And now the union is mum on what was shown.
So what was the take-away? I recall a parable from my childhood: The emperor has no clothes.
The state audit report repudiated all of the union charges and noted that the level of patient care and satisfaction at UCSF and UCLA medical centers was among the highest in the nation.
The university and AFSCME have been in contract negotiations for more than a year, and during much of that time, the union has waged a relentless campaign of protests and strikes geared toward garnering media coverage and the backing of public officials. It has spent far less energy in good-faith bargaining, instead demanding more and compromising less.
Since October, the university has reached labor agreements with seven unions that represent about 27,000 employees — including nurses and other staff at our medical centers — while AFSCME instead continues its misguided offensive.
The strikes at UC medical centers in May and November forced the cancellation of surgeries and medical consultations, the hiring of replacement workers and substantial financial losses that will only mount with another walk-out. The actions created havoc, worry and mistrust — especially among the very people, patients and their families, whom we serve.
As always, the university remains available to answer questions not only from lawmakers but also from our patients, our staff and the public at large. UC medical centers, which are almost entirely self-supporting, generate millions of dollars annually that, as the latest audit noted, are funneled into our medical schools. These schools train nearly half of California’s medical students and medical residents, which benefits us all.
It was regarding this last matter, the transfer of funds to our medical schools, that the state auditor offered her only recommendation. She urged us to be more transparent about these funds and to issue an annual report. We are happy to do so and glad to have been asked.
We ask that AFSCME end its spurious allegations against the University of California and bargain in good faith.
John Stobo is the senior vice president for health sciences and services with the UC Office of the President.