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UC labor walkout affects medical centers, dining operations

Thousands of tutors, service workers and patient care employees stage a one-day job action as tense negotiations continue over a new contract.

November 20, 2013|By Larry Gordon
  • Union member Karla Salazar joins protesters in front of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on Wednesday.
Union member Karla Salazar joins protesters in front of the Ronald Reagan… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Some elective surgeries were postponed, some student dining halls were closed and some classes were canceled Wednesday as a one-day labor strike had a noticeable yet uneven impact at UC's medical centers and campuses Wednesday.

The walkout by thousands of service workers, patient care employees, student tutors and others was reported to be peaceful with no arrests at the nine campuses and five medical centers from Davis to San Diego.

UC Santa Cruz appeared to be the most heavily affected because demonstrators blocked the two campus entrances and, as a result, many operations such as libraries and cafeterias were significantly reduced or closed for the day, officials said.

UCLA and UC Irvine medical centers estimated that about 70% of unionized workers showed up for work.

Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for the UCLA hospital system, said the day turned out to be "an easier proposition" than originally feared and that some replacement workers were sent home early. Still, he said as many as 15 surgeries were postponed and $2.5 million incurred from replacement workers' wages and lost revenues. UC Irvine reported 40 postponed surgeries.

Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3299, which represents about 22,000 UC healthcare workers, respiratory therapists, custodians, food workers and others, said he did not know yet how many members joined the union's walkout. But judging by UC San Francisco picket lines under umbrellas in heavy rain, he said strike participation was sizable.

"There are a lot of wet feet, a lot of wet signs and a lot of wet people. But also a lot of committed people," he said.

The union, which has been negotiating with UC for new contracts, conducted a two-day strike in May at the medical centers and expanded the strike Wednesday to other parts of the campuses, including dining halls. UCLA reported that about 30% of its dining operations were closed. Some students accepted free burritos and snacks offered by strikers.

Union officials said the walkout was in protest of what they allege are unfair labor practices, intimidation of workers and dangerously low staffing levels. UC says the union refuses to agree to the higher employee contributions for pensions that others pay.

The UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865, which represents 12,000 student tutors and teaching assistants, struck in sympathy. Graduate students estimated that at least half of the class discussion sections in some departments were canceled, concentrated in the humanities and social sciences.

Both sides hoped that the arrival of former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano as UC president would improve labor relations. Although new contracts were signed recently with nurses and librarians, talks between the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and UC remain tense.

UC system spokeswoman Shelly Meron said the strike was pointless. "Patients and students suffered and it got us no closer to the contract, which is really the end goal here," she said.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Kathryn Lybarger said the union had "both the legal right and moral responsibility to stand up for the safety of the students and patients we serve."

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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