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Most unionized UC hospital workers go to jobs despite strike

More than 75% of the union's patient care employees scheduled to work show up, resulting in overstaffing at some of the five medical centers.

May 22, 2013|By Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times
  • Striking UC Irvine Medical Center workers rally in front of the hospital in Orange on the second day of the walkout. A hospital spokesman said about 77% of the union members reported to work for their Tuesday night shifts.
Striking UC Irvine Medical Center workers rally in front of the hospital… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

As University of California patient care workers returned to the picket lines Wednesday, hospital administrators said they were gratified that so many others chose to come to work.

More than three-quarters of union members who had been scheduled to work Tuesday did so, said Dianne Klein, spokeswoman for the UC office of the president. Hospital officials said they expected a similar turnout Wednesday.

"The [union] leadership is engaged in this game of brinkmanship," Klein said. "It was a risky strategy. And it was an irresponsible one."

The strike by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which began at 4 a.m. Tuesday, led to delays and disruptions in care as administrators rescheduled surgeries, scans and tests. UC officials said they spent millions of dollars preparing for the strike and hiring replacement workers at the centers in Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.

Because so many workers showed up for their shifts, both UC Davis and UC Irvine were overstaffed, officials said. The union members include respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians and nursing assistants.

At Irvine, about 77% of the union members reported to work for their Tuesday night shifts, spokesman John Murray said. During the two-day strike, which is set to end at 4 a.m. Thursday, the hospital is diverting ambulances from the emergency room and performing far fewer surgeries than usual, Murray said. The hospital's patient census on Wednesday was 270, down from its usual 300.

At UCLA, about 80% of the AFSCME union members came to work. The patient census there was down about 15% Wednesday, and many nonessential surgeries were postponed. The hospital's emergency room stayed open, and surgeons continued with operations that could not be rescheduled.

Union members said they hoped the strike would bring attention to their concerns, including understaffing and pension reforms.

Jenny Takakura was one of the workers picketing Wednesday outside Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Takakura, a radiation therapist who works with cancer patients, said her department is so short-staffed that she feels pressure to come to work even when she is sick.

"I came out here for the patients," Takakura said. "Patient care is just not what it should be."

Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for UCLA Health System, said he wished the union would return to the bargaining table rather than stay out on the streets. "It's hard to negotiate with someone who has a bullhorn," he said.

But Takakura said UC officials could have stopped the strike. "They are not listening to us," she said. "This is the only way I think that we can keep our patients safe."

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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