LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A strike by thousands of health care workers at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UC Irvine Medical Center and University of California hospitals across the state went into its second and final day today.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 announced earlier this month that its roughly 13,000 patient care technical workers planned to begin a two-day strike at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
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 not cross picket lines. Other AFSCME-represented hospital workers honored the picket lines as well.
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 on 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.” He charged that it was wrong 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 around 180 delayed at UC San Diego Medical Center alone.
Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for UCLA hospitals, said officials were juggling non-striking staffers to ensure patient care is maintained; non-essential surgeries have been postponed.
UCLA has postponed 25 percent of the surgeries scheduled for Tuesday and today, according to a UCLA statement.
“We sincerely regret any inconvenience this strike may cause our patients, their families and friends,” said Rosenthal. “However, every effort is being made to ensure that the hospitals and clinics that are part of the UCLA Health System remain open and continue to deliver the highest level of patient care and safety through the duration of the strike.”
Approximately 550 replacement workers and redeployed administration staff have been assigned to fill in for striking workers in positions ranging from housekeeping staff to respiratory therapists and nursing assistants, Rosenthal said.
The projected cost of the two-day strike to UCLA is more than $5 million, which reflects lost revenue and expenditures for replacement workers, he said.
At UC Irvine, about 1,700 technical care workers joined in the strike, and UCI was bringing in about 400 replacements, said John Murray, UC Irvine’s manager of healthcare media relations.
Murray said the hospital treated about 300 patients Tuesday, “slightly below what we usually have in the middle of the week.” The average is about 320 to 330 patients, he said.
About 1,200 unionized workers were scheduled to work the day shift at the hospital and outpatient offices Tuesday, and about 790 reported to work, approximately 66 percent, Murray told City News Service. UCI had to reschedule 75 operations, but performed about 24 Tuesday, below the average of 36 to 40, he said.
“The upshot is we’re taking care of the patients we need to take care of,” Murray said.
Dr. John Stobo, UC’s senior vice president for Health Sciences and Services, estimated the strike will cost $20 million across the five medical centers — UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Davis and UC San Francisco.
UC officials insisted they have offered workers 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.