Strike averted as UC and patient care workers union reach tentative contract agreement

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The University of California and the union representing its patient care workers came to a tentative contract agreement early Sunday morning, narrowly averting a five-day strike that was scheduled to begin Monday.

Following what the union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, called “marathon” bargaining sessions, the two parties reached a four-year agreement, covering about 13,000 patient care workers across the UC system. The agreement, reached after nearly two years of bargaining, includes wage increases, staffing protections and changes to health benefits and pension contributions.

Patient care workers, who include surgical and X-ray technicians, could see a 24.5 percent wage increase over four years, in addition to a three percent increase upon ratification of the proposed contract, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein. That figure includes both across-the-board increases and step increases.

Not every worker receives step increases, which are based on experience and “loyalty to the system,” but most patient care workers will see increases beyond the minimum, according to union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse.

Staffing protections — the top priority for the union, according to Stenhouse — include limits on hiring of outside contractors and greater transparency in workload guidelines. In addition, the contract presents revised language on layoffs, according to Klein. Stenhouse said this includes the withdrawal of “broad layoff powers” that would have allowed the university to “arbitrarily” send workers home.

Changes to health benefits include a freeze on premiums for lower-salaried workers. In addition, patient care worker pension contributions will now use the same system as AFSCME-represented service workers, according to Klein.

The proposed contract ratification vote is set for Wednesday and Thursday.

“This ends nearly two years of very challenging negotiations and serves as a foundation for UC and AFSCME to build on going forward,” said Dwaine Duckett, UC vice president for human resources,  in a statement.

The averted strike would have been the second unfair-labor-practices strike since negotiations began, following a one-day strike in November. The strike was authorized March 14 with 97 percent of the union’s patient care workers voting in favor and would have cost the university about $50 million, according to Klein.

The union also represents about 8,300 university service workers. AFSCME came to an agreement with the university on behalf of these workers in late February after the announcement of a five-day strike. That strike was also canceled upon the tentative contract agreement.

According to Klein, the university has two contracts left to negotiate — one with a union representing student workers, including teaching assistants and graduate student instructors. The university is also in the process of negotiating its first contract with a new union representing doctors and dentists, among other health professionals, Klein said.

Senior staff writer Megan Messerly contributed to this report.

Contact Sahil Chinoy at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.