Another Statewide Strike Coming to UCI Medical Center Amid Outsourcing Fight

AFSCME workers on the picket line a year ago. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange is set to be swarmed by a sea of green shirts tomorrow as a union representing its workers goes out on strike–again. This time, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 picket lines want to draw attention to a trio of unfair labor practice (ULP) charges filed by the union last month alleging that the University of California is illegally outsourcing union jobs statewide.

Workers at all ten UC campuses and five medical centers are walking off the job on five major strike lines. They’re objecting to a purported plan to further privatize the UC system while driving down wages and benefits.

“We want the university to stop their illegal outsourcing, not only because it undermines our work but they’re also exploiting these workers from these other companies that are paying them low wages,” says Monica De Leon, unit secretary in UCI Medical Center’s labor and delivery department and vice president of AFSCME 3299’s patient care technical unit. “It’s now a threat that affects us close to home here at UC Irvine and across the state.”

One charge filed on Apr. 29 with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board alleges that the UC system violated the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA). The union contends that the university secretly and unilaterally contracted out bargaining unit work with no notice given to AFSCME 3299 and then turned around to claim that it had every right to bypass negotiations with them in doing so.

The controversy surrounds a new initiative–one that AFSCME 3299 claims is worth $150 million a year in union labor–with Aya Healthcare at three medical centers in the state, including UC Irvine. “The scope of this enterprise is unprecedented and its effects will be far reaching,” the ULP charge reads. “The university’s decisions to contract out bargaining unit work without negotiation violate its obligations under state law.”

AFSCME 3299 only found out about an agreement between the university and Aya last month following a records request. By that time, the agreement had already been executed a year ago.

De Leon sees Aya workers on the grounds of UCI Medical Center in various front line departments. “We know they’re around,” she says. “They’re working in different areas and we see them everyday.” The ULP alleges as much with the union claiming to have observed 30 nursing aides at the medical center last month; AFSCME 3299 also says they confirmed with them directly that they were getting trained on its computer system in order to work there.

“Five disruptive strike since last May–including three in the past several months–come at a cost to patients, students, and UC communities, while doing nothing to advance negotiations,” said Clare Doan, a University of California spokeswoman. “The way to a deal is at the bargaining table, not on the picket lines.” The university calls the contracting claims both “unfounded” and a “red herring.” The strike, Doan says, is a mere negotiating tactic designed to gain leverage as the union seeks eight percent raises after recently rejecting UC’s offer of a four-year contract with three percent annual raises

Apart from the latest fight, AFSCME 3299’s “big green machine” held three-day bargaining strikes last year in the course of its ongoing contract campaign. The union’s been bargaining for more than two years without having come to a new agreement with the university.

Tomorrow’s strike is the latest to hit the medical center in Orange. Just last month, the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE-CWA) Local 9119 union walked out in solidarity with AFSCME 3299 over other ULP charges. “Both unions have been in this in the long haul,” says De Leon. “We’ve both come out in solidarity for each other’s strikes.”

The unfair labor practice strike at UCI Medical Center starts at 6 a.m. tomorrow and wraps 12 hours later. There will be a march at 10:30 a.m. followed by a noontime rally. AFSCME 3299’s expecting political support from various Democratic state legislators–and insists that, contrary to UC talking points, they’re not endangering patient care and even have contingency plans in the event of a natural disaster.

“We have a patient protection task force that’s been assembled,” says De Leon. “Regardless of what the university says we’re not posing a threat to public safety.”

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