UCI Workers Hit the Picket Lines to Protest Imposed Contract

ORANGE (CNS) - Hundreds of picketers converged on UC Irvine Medical Center today to support striking service and patient-care technicians as the union members began a three-day walkout.

``The strike here has been great, we've had over 1,000 people and other unions have come out to support us,'' said Monica DeLeon, who works as a unit secretary at UCI. John Murray, a spokesman for UCI, however, put the number of picketers between 300 to 400 in Orange. The hospital rescheduled elective surgeries and procedures, but the emergency department and trauma center remained open, Murray said.

UCI officials a statement saying they were ``disappointed by the AFSCME union's attempt to disrupt patient care at UCI Medical Center as a bargaining tactic.''

``UCI Health plays a unique, unduplicated role that benefits our entire community,'' according to UCI. 

``We are Orange County's leaders in complex tertiary and quaternary care and are the backbone of the region's emergency and trauma care system. We are taking steps to ensure that our medical center will remain open and available to the community that places so much trust in our care.

``As always, our top priority remains providing safe, excellent care to our patients, their families and the community we serve. We will do our very best to continue providing that high-quality care during this strike.

''Union leaders said they have worked without a contract for well over a year. The union voted to strike when the university system last month imposed a new contract for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which included 2-percent pay hikes. The UC's last offer was an annual 3 percent pay bump over the next four years. DeLeon said the salary wasn't the only issue.

``They fail to address some of our core demands,'' she said. 

``There's growing inequality going on across the UC system. The big problems include outsourcing our jobs and also the fact that as workers we're always short-staffed in medical centers and on campuses.''

DeLeon added, ``They're saying we're greedy, but we're all working on expired contracts... What they don't talk about is over 5,000 executives make more than the governor.''

The union's members qualify for government assistance because the salary is so low, DeLeon said.``A lot of our workers have two jobs, or a lot of workers struggle just to make ends meet,'' DeLeon said. 

``We want the university to stop hiding and start addressing the real demands and issues.''

DeLeon lamented how many of the union's workers can't even afford to live in Orange County. University officials said the salary demands being made by the union are more than double the pay hikes given to other UC employees. The university also contends that its service workers are paid ``at or above the market, and in some cases by as much as 17 percent higher than comparable jobs.''

Union officials say the strike involves 9,000 service workers statewide, but they are being joined by more than 15,000 Patient Care Technical workers. The union represents workers including security guards, groundskeepers, custodians, respiratory therapists, nursing aides and surgical technicians.

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