Thousands of UC Med Workers on Strike

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Thousands of University of California medical workers began a three-day strike Tuesday against hospitals, clinics and campuses that prompted the rescheduling of thousands of surgeries and outpatient appointments.

Picket lines were called for the five UC medical centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Irvine and Davis.

The walkout involved more than 15,000 patient care technical workers, including radiology technicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacy workers, laboratory workers and others but not nurses.

Another 24,000 other union workers, ranging from truck drivers to gardeners and cooks, were striking in sympathy, said John de los Angeles, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

Emergency rooms remained open.

The hospitals said they made preparations for the strike, but it still will affect thousands of patients.

The UC San Francisco hospital rescheduled more than 4,000 appointments at the medical center and its two associated clinics and rescheduled 241 surgeries, including "pretty high-risk" gynecological and colorectal operations, said Sheila Antrum, chief operating officer.

Ten patients, including children, were sent to other hospitals, she said.

In addition, about 500 temporary replacements were on hand, including respiratory therapists, social workers, pharmacists and even housekeepers, she said.

"My focus here is that we get through everything with the usual great care we have," she said.

The union said a certain number of its workers will remain on duty to ensure patient safety, and it also has a "patient protection task force" that can respond if contingency plans at the hospitals fail.

Patient care workers have been without a contract since December. Talks and mediation efforts have stalled, and the university plans to impose new employment terms next month, union spokesman de los Angeles said.

The union wants the university to stop outsourcing low-wage work that it claims is fueling widening income, racial and gender gaps for workers at UC's hospitals, clinics campuses and research facilities.

The same issue prompted a three-day walkout by 53,000 UC workers last May, including custodians and cafeteria workers. Nurses and other medical workers walked out then in sympathy.

"They're destroying what were once career pathways to the middle-class for our state's diverse population and are damaging the quality of service that we provide to students, patients, and everyday Californians," Monica De Leon, vice president of AFSCME Local 3299's Patient Care Technical Unit, said in a statement.

A University of California statement accused union leaders of spreading false information about outside service contracts. It said the number of unionized patient care workers had increased by nearly 19 percent over the past five years while outsourcing contracts had stayed relatively flat.

The employment deal to be implemented next month would grant 3-percent-a-year raises for the next 4 years for patient care and service staff, as well as offering a health plan at the same rates as other UC employees with similar salaries.

The union, however, is demanding an "unrealistic and unreasonable" 8 percent annual wage increase that is nearly triple what other UC employees have received, UC Office of the President spokeswoman Claire Doan said in a statement.

The statement accused union leaders of "throwing a tantrum ... putting their agenda above the needs of patients, students and the public."

But de los Angeles, the union spokesman, said the new employment terms do nothing to deal with the threat of replacing union jobs with cheaper outside contractors who are ill-paid and lack benefits.

"What good is a raise if our job is allowed to be outsourced tomorrow?" he said.