With strike on horizon, public labor board issues complaint

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With a five-day strike by UC patient care workers set to begin Monday, the California Public Employment Relations Board issued an official complaint Wednesday in response to union allegations that the university engaged in unfair labor practices.

The issuance of a complaint by PERB only means the board believes there is sufficient evidence to go forward with a hearing or settlement conference, not that the university is at fault, said David Rosenfeld, a lecturer specializing in labor relations at the UC Berkeley School of Law. No hearing or conference has been scheduled yet.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to achieving a fair contract for our employees and bringing these negotiations to a close as quickly as possible,” said Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president of human resources, in a statement last week. “Our patients are not bargaining chips, and strikes are disruptive to the entire medical center community.”

The complaint details allegations by the union — American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — that the university made unilateral changes to health plans and other contract elements and imposed limits to bargaining.

The complaint also specifically mentions an emergency layoff proposal the union alleges was unfairly brought into contract negotiations after 18 months of bargaining.

The proposal, as it stood in documents filed by the union with PERB on March 4, would allow the university to send workers home when there is a decrease in workload after first trying to offer workers time off or other assignments.

The university removed this clause from its offer March 15, according to the university website, yet a union spokesperson said the proposal has only been “repackaged.”

“If UC is willing to try to force these reckless and dangerous proposals and we do not stand up, that does not bode well for the UC medical system,” said union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said that the university has also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the union with PERB. The union and university also have a bargaining meeting Friday, she said.

The board confirmed Thursday the list of essential union-represented employees who would not be allowed to strike. These employees include respiratory therapists and others who are deemed essential to the safety of patients.

Before striking, the union also prepares a team of staff ready to respond in the case of some unusual medical demand, Stenhouse said.

The union, which has been negotiating with the university for more than a year, went on strike for three total days in May and November of 2013. In February, the university settled a contract with UC service workers, also represented by the union.

The UC regents, who are the respondents named in the complaint, have 20 calendar days from March 19 to file an answer.

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