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UCSD Hospital Workers Take Part in Statewide One-Day Strike

Evening Edition

Aired 11/20/13 on KPBS News.

Thousands of University of California health care workers across the state will picket today day at hospitals and clinics statewide, including at UC San Diego medical campuses in San Diego and La Jolla.

Thousands of University of California health care workers across the state — including San Diego and La Jolla — manned picket lines Wednesday alleging unfair labor practices in a job action UC officials said reduces patients to "bargaining chips" in a work dispute.

Patient care technical workers and service workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 will picket throughout the day at hospitals and clinics statewide, including at UC San Diego Medical Center Thornton Hospital and UC San Diego Medical Center-Hillcrest. The union represents more than 22,000 UC hospital workers across the state.

Union officials accuse hospital administrators of harassing and intimidating workers who advocated for "safe staffing standards" by taking part in a two-day walkout in May.

"Our members have both the legal right and more responsibility to stand up for the safety of the students and patients we serve," said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. "By attempting to silence workers, UC hasn't just repeatedly broken the law — it has willfully endangered all who come to UC to learn, to heal and to build a better life for their families."

Michael Avant, a member of AFSCME Local 3299 and patient escort at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest, said management would threaten to reduce workers' hours.

"It was bullying from management. Just telling people 'Hey, if you go on strike you're going to get a reduction in time. You could even lose your job.' And we're talking people who've been here 10, 15, 20 years plus," Avant said.

Dr. John Stobo, senior vice president for UC Health Sciences and Services, countered that money is at the heart of the dispute, not concern for patients.

"By calling for a strike for a second time in seven months, AFSCME leaders again are putting patients at UC medical centers and student health centers in the middle of a labor dispute," Stobo said. "This is completely inappropriate and unfair to the people we are here to serve. Our patients and students are not bargaining chips. They deserve better."

Stobo said the university made updated offers to the union earlier this month "and showed significant movement on wages pensions, health care benefits and other issues. AFSCME rejected all of our offers."

"We have the highest standards of excellence and we will continue delivering care that meets those standards during this strike," he said.

"Still, this strike by AFSCME will hurt the very patients the union claims to be protecting, which makes us believe it can only be about one thing -- money."

Stobo noted that more than 100 patients have had elective surgeries canceled due to the strike, and one patient will have a planned kidney transplant delayed.

Patient care technical workers and service workers picketed throughout the day at hospitals and clinics statewide, including at UC San Diego medical center in Hillcrest. The union represents more than 22,000 UC hospital workers across the state.

Union officials said they were committed to patient protection, claiming it has formed a task force to handle emergency needs at the hospitals if they arise during the strike and has exempted dozens of critical care workers from taking part in the walkout.

Avant said despite the strike, patients are still the hospital workers' main concern.

"We're here for our patients. There's been a lot of talk that we're putting our patients in danger and that's not it at all. Our patients come first."

Members of the California Nurses Association had been scheduled to join the walkout in a show of solidarity, but it announced over the weekend it had reached a tentative contract deal with the UC system and would not be taking part in the strike.

Patient care technical workers include technicians for ultrasounds, X- rays, MRIs, mammograms and other tests, radiation therapists for cancer patients, pharmacy technicians and respiratory therapists, according to UC.

On Tuesday, a judge in Sacramento issued an injunction limiting the number of workers who can take part in the strike to ensure employees who perform essential functions remain on the job.

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