UC patient care workers call 5-day strike

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With 97 percent approval in its Wednesday and Thursday strike authorization vote, the union representing about 13,000 patient care workers notified the university of its plan to hold a five-day strike from March 24 to 28.

The strike is planned in response to alleged unfair labor practice on the part of the university, including health benefit cuts, the imposition of contract terms and, most recently, the introduction of an emergency layoff clause into the contract proposal, a clause the union calls a “poison pill.”

“The UC has got to stop breaking the law,” said union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse. “They’ve got to rescind the unlawful stuff they’ve done. We don’t write the law — we honor it. And they should, too.”

Patient care workers include respiratory therapists, surgical technicians and other medical staff at the campus health centers and the UC medical centers. The union has been negotiating for more than a year and went on strike for three total days in May and November of 2013.

The university anticipates the strike to cost approximately $50 million over the five days, according to university spokesperson Dianne Klein.

“This is patently unfair to the people we serve and our other dedicated hospital workers,” said Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president of human resources, in a statement. “Our patients are not bargaining chips, and strikes are disruptive to the entire medical center community.”

The emergency layoff clause would allow the university to send workers home when there is a decrease in workload so long as it first attempts to offer workers time off or other assignments, according to documents attached to the unfair labor practice charge.

If the charge — filed by the union with the California Public Employment Relations Board in August 2013 and amended twice since — went through, it would mean the university could not hire permanent replacement workers during the strike, according to David Rosenfeld, a lecturer specializing in labor relations at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

The union — the American Federation of State, Local and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — also represents university service workers and came to an agreement with the university on the contract of those workers in late February after an announced five-day strike that was cancelled upon the agreement.

The university and union are bargaining Friday, and the meeting may continue into Saturday morning, Klein said.

Daniel Tutt covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.