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Strike Underway At UC Medical Centers

UC Medical Center Hillcrest workers on the picket line Tuesday.
Erik Anderson
UC Medical Center Hillcrest workers on the picket line Tuesday.
Strike Underway At UC Medical Centers
GuestsLarry Scinta, Executive Board Member, AFSCME Dr. Thomas McAfee, Dean of Clinical Affairs, UC San Diego Health System

ST. JOHN: UC officials say workers are jeopardizing patient safety. We have on the line with us Lara Scinta, a radiation therapist of La Jolla and a member of the bargaining team of the union, the American federation of state, county, and federal employees. Thanks so much for joining us. We also have doctor Thomas McAfee, thanks for joining us. MCAFEE: Good afternoon. ST. JOHN: So doctor McAfee, let's start with how this is going to affect the UC medical centers in San Diego. How is it going to affect patient care? MCAFEE: About, 2,000 of our hospital workers fall under the union, respiratory technicians, pharmacy technicians, employees who does positions have a direct impact on patient care. We needed to reschedule quite a high volume of elective procedures, about 120 elective surgeries, and 350 radiologic procedures over the strike to decrease our volume so we can focus on patients who come to us with urgent or emergent problems. ST. JOHN: How are you planning keep up with staffing levels? MCAFEE: We've brought in outside contract workers on a temporary basis to fill some of these positions. Many of our other staff who are not part of the union are coming in to cover some of the positions. So we're doing our best to maintain our commitment to patient safety and quality of care despite the disruption from our workforce. I will say we're very disappointed in our colleagues for going on. It flies in the face of concerns over patient care. ST. JOHN: Larry, you're a member of the bargaining team. Who is on strike and how big is this in a historical perspective? SCINTA: Our union has never gone out on strike. And this time, it is workers specifically striking with patient care. And about 8,000 service workers who are striking with us. ST. JOHN: Can you give us an idea of what jobs they do so we can imagine who is walking off the job here? SCINTA: Yes, we have a lot, people that work with -- respiratory therapists, nurses, surgical technicians, radiation therapists, pharmacy techs. ST. JOHN: Okay. So from your perspective, what do the strikers want? What are the main issues? SCINTA: Well, the main issues are we've been bargaining for over a year and we have still yet to have our core issues resolved. The fact of the matter is the UC has been understaffing, and we work because we are working in conditions that are just unsafe for us, and if they're unsafe for us, they're definitely unsafe for the patients. And we're asking for better contract language stocontrol the amount of overtime people have, and for language to stop contracting out services. Per diem employees are hired at exposure tent rates and they're not converted into full-time employees very fast. So we are looking for continuity of care. We want full-time employees that really do care about patients. And we do area about patients. That's why we gave 10 days' notice. So the university can offload all the positions that are nonemergent, and we still have a task force to have people come in if we absolutely have to have people to come in and get treated, we will do that. ST. JOHN: Yesterday, a superior court judge that about 400 people could not go on strike. 100 of them, members of your union. In interests of patient safety. This happened last time as well. There was a judge who said some people would still have to go to work. How does this ruling compare to the last one? SCINTA: Well, as far as the union is concerned, the number that have to stay at work are far less than what the university was asking for. And the people there asking to stay could be outsourced for a day or two, and also the patients could be offload forward a day or two. Very few jobs are there every day. So it's like I said, giving ten days' notice, doing a 2-day strike instead of a 5-day strike we felt was appropriate, and we felt that the university -- they could have settled the contract language, but they refused to offer us anything more. And we are demanding that we have better language in our contracts going forward that at the end of the year with the healthcare act we're assured to be looking at more patients. And if we don't have better contract language to protect the workers, the university is going to be doing what it's been doing. ST. JOHN: Doctor, what about the charge that staffing levels are being reduced to a point that actually affects patient care? MCAFEE: That's not the core issue that's holding up the negotiations. This union is the only one of the unions we've negotiated with which has refused to go along with the changes in the pension plan that are required in order for the university of California pension plan to be able to survive. They've resisted any kind of increased contribution despite the fact that eight other unions have accepted those changes as well as all the employees that are not represented by unions. And that's really a fundamental impasse between the university and the union leadership. I want to come back to patient care though. ST. JOHN: Good. MCAFEE: If you're a patient sitting in the bed of one of our hospitals today, and you need a let's pirtory therapist to help you with a breathing treatment, and he's outside the hospital carrying a sign and striking and claiming that they're defending patient care, that's completely absurd. We've taken steps to mitigate that by bringing in other staff, by bringing in contract labors, but it's highly disruptive and against patient care, whether there's a 10-day notice or a 2-month notice. ST. JOHN: Okay. This is a 2-day strike, and I guess we're talking about patient care in the long-term. MCAFEE: There's no data that supports the claim that patient care affects the way patient care is in our hospital. We were named as a top performer in 2011, and we were named for two years in a row by truvin, one of the top 100 teaching hospitals in the country. We've received recognitions because of our commitment to quality and safety. There's absolutely no data that how we staff our medical centers in any way detracts from the quality of care or the safety of that we're providing to our patients. ST. JOHN: Okay, so Larry, the pension reform issue is not exclusive obviously to your union. We've seen other state workers going through similar reforms, and other places have signed onto reforms very similar. Why are your workers holding out? SCINTA: It's not just us. There are many other unions that haven't signed off on this yet. The university likes to keep spinning this as if this is their issue, not our core issue. We want to talk about the pension, and we're not happy with the way they're proposing it. But to that end, we are asking for a lot more than that. No marry outsourcing, per diem conversions, that employees not be forced to work overtime. When I see a patient every 16 minute, I promise you that the patient doesn't get the treatment they were supposed to get. But what isn't documented is how much stress it's putting on me, how much stress on puts on my family. You can tell the people to do the job that I do, and give themselves 110% every day to all their patients. You can say all you want it's about pension reform, but what it boils down to is the university's inability to sit at the bargaining table. ST. JOHN: Well, let me ask you whether in at the bargaining stable the staffing issues have been resolved but the extra additional contributions you were being asked to make to your pension funds was to remain, would you go back to work? SCINTA: Well, we plan to go back to work after tomorrow since the university is not trying to stop us from going on strike now. But this isn't a bargaining session, so all I'll say about the pension reform is that they are basically treating everybody the same information that the sky is falling on the pension, and that we're now being inappropriate and greedy when it turns out that the university executives are the ones that are being greedy. They come in here, they get seven years of work, and walk away with a quarter million dollars for the rest of their life. They're proposing taking away from us the really nice healthcare, and retiring at 65 years old. And that's preposterous. I cannot work until I'm 65 doing the type of work that I do. I'm always on the move, always treating patients. If you ask me to do that after I've worked here for 40 years, that's preposterous. ST. JOHN: There's an item on the website that suggests executive pay has increased $100 million since 2009. And patient care is being shortchanged. How do you react to that? What is your reaction to this charge that executive bonuses and pensions and pay continue to keep on going up? MCAFEE: I haven't seen the claims on the website, so I certainly can't validate their accuracy. I will say this, all of the faculty, all of the staff, all of the executives within the university of California have the exact same pension plan. We make the same proportional contributions to that plan. There are no special perks or special compensation gimmicks for executives within the pension plan. In addition to that, all of the salaries for the executive leadership and all of the medical centers across the university of California are benchmarked against industry standards. And all of those are -- and there's a great deal of oversight. ST. JOHN: Why is it if the medical system is $24 billion in the red with its pension system it continues to give top executives generous bonuses? MCAFEE: Again, our ability to manage these complex academic medical centers relies on being able to recruit top talent. And we're competing with academic medical centers across the country. If we aren't paying competitively, and that's why we benchmark our compensation for our executives against industry standards, but if we fall behind and aren't paying at a competitive rate, we will not be able to attract the kind of talent that we need to manage these magnificent resources for the State of California. ST. JOHN: And why is the strike only two days? Surely if the medical center knows the strike is going to end on Thursday, they will just wait you out. SCINTA: They are definitely waiting us out. We did the 2-day strike because we wanted the first strike in UC history to not be something that would literally put people underwater. We wanted to do this and let them work offlocation. The last bargaining session had absolutely no movement, and we had to move forward with something. And this was the choice. ST. JOHN: Thank you both so much for helping us to understand what some of the issues are. MCAFEE: Thank you.

Thousands of health care workers at UC San Diego Medical Center and University of California hospitals across the state began a two-day strike today, walking picket lines as they push for a new contract.

UC health officials prepared for the walkout by canceling non-essential surgical procedures at all of its centers and juggling staff to ensure patients are not endangered by the work stoppage, which began around 6 a.m.


The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 earlier this month announced that its roughly 13,000 patient care technical workers would participate in the strike. Thousands of health care workers represented by University Professional and Technical Employees, or UPTE, a unit of Communication Workers of America, said they would honor the strike and would not cross the picket lines today. Other AFSCME-represented hospital workers also vowed to honor the picket line in a sympathy 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.

UC officials went to court in Sacramento Monday in hopes of halting the strike on the basis of patient safety, and a judge issued a restraining order preventing about 100 workers across the UC system from taking part in the walkout to ensure that vital services would not be disrupted.

Dwaine Duckett, vice president for human resources at UC, said the injunction was "more limited than what we were seeking," and said it was written for the union "to put patients in the middle of a labor dispute and jeopardize essential services to them as a negotiating tactic."

Duckett noted that hospitals across the UC system were postponing surgeries due to the walkout, with about 180 delayed just at UC San Diego Medical Center.


AFSCME officials, however, have insisted their strike plan will ensure patients continue to receive essential care. Kathryn Lybarger, president of AFSCME Local 3299, said the judge's ruling in Sacramento "affirms our members' right to advocate for their patients and reassures the public that there will be no imminent health and safety risks associated with this week's strike."

"The court has honored our members' commitment to protect patient safety, and to stand up to UC's unsafe staffing practices and reckless cost- cutting, which are too often putting our patients at risk," she said.

UC officials insisted that they have offered a fair wage and benefit proposal, saying the sticking points in negotiations are pension contributions, which would increase for employees from 5 percent to 6.5 percent in the most recent talks; a new tier of pension benefits for workers hired on or after July 1; and revised eligibility rules for retiree health benefits.

According to UC, the latest four-year contract offer includes wage increases of up to 3.5 percent per year over the life of the deal. Union officials, however, have accused UC of failing to negotiate in good faith and limiting worker salaries while earning millions in profits.

Dr. John Stobo, UC's senior vice president for Health Sciences and Services, estimated that the strike will cost $20 million across the five medical centers — UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Davis and UC San Francisco.