Nearly 40,000 UC medical center workers stage one-day, statewide strike

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A one-day strike by nearly 40,000 University of California hospital workers has the potential to disrupt normal operations at several UC campuses across the state Wednesday. 

Members of the University Professional and Technical Employees CWA 9119 authorized the strike last October and have been working without a contract since September 2017, according to UPTE Vice President Dan Russell, a UC Berkeley information technology worker.

"We've met 34 times total... over 22 months," Russell said. "I don't think (the meetings) have been particularly productive, because UC hasn't been bargaining in good faith." 

Russell said the union has filed "a number" of unfair labor practices complaints against the university. 

"At the end of the day, they brought us the kind of contract we can't accept," Russell said. "One that will allow us to deliver the best education, research and patient care at the University of California."

Russell, who was on the picket line at the UC Davis Medical Center Wednesday, said he expects thousand of workers to join the strike and that they have been energized by the participation of state and national political leaders, including presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, who was expected to address a rally at UCLA's Ronald Regan Medical Center.

Workers are also striking at the medical centers at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UCSF. 

"We are on the right side of this struggle and UC executives are on the wrong side," Russell said. 

The union is demanding wage increases that keep up with the cost of living and a halt to outsourcing some jobs. The union also claims that the university system is trying to reduce retirement benefits and can't adequately attract and retain workers. 

The average wage for research and technical workers, for example, is "only about $54,000 a year" while the cost of living in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles is "out of control," Russell said. 

University officials, however, said the union's demands are unreasonable and its leadership is distorting the facts. Many positions pay competitive rates, they said.

"Union leaders are quick to call for a member vote on a strike, but not on any of UC's many proposals," UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said in a written statement. "They claim they're losing jobs and getting displaced, yet for the past five years they've enjoyed substantial growth in membership and 

The university has offered a 3 percent raise in both April and October of this year and an additional 3 percent annual raise from 2020 to 2023, as well as a one-time $1,250 payment "for all eligible employees upon contract ratification," according to Doan. 

The UTPE workers were joined on the picket lines Wednesday by members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, who are also working without a contract and who decided to strike in sympathy with their fellow UC employees. 

"How these workers are treated has a direct impact on UC's success in fulfilling its public mission," said AFSCME Local 3299 spokesman Todd Stenhouse, who was picketing with workers at the UCSF Medical Center on Parnassus Avenue Wednesday. "Throwing six- and seven-figure [salaries] at a 
bunch of over-titled administrators, I'm not sure how that supports the mission. You've got a real widening [income] gap here and it's getting worse." 

The striking workers include information technology workers, lab assistants, building inspectors, clinical researchers, museum workers, health care case managers, pharmacists, dietitians and social workers, among others.