Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union staged a demonstration at the UCI Medical Center on May 20.
About 100 demonstrators, wearing green shirts that said, ‘Together we’re stronger,’ gathered in order to draw attention to their concerns about the decreasing quality of service at the medical center, as well as allegedly unfair labor policies, both at the medical center and elsewhere within the university.
The demonstration at UCI was one of nine such demonstrations at UC campuses and medical centers throughout the state.
‘The union is marching because the workers at the medical center and on campus have concerns about the quality of service,’ said Faith Raider, a spokesperson for AFSCME. ‘The executives have misplaced priorities. They are putting profit ahead of patient care and are not addressing the workforce’s needs.’
Demonstrators explained that the UCI Medical Center is causing skilled and otherwise devoted employees to look elsewhere for employment because the university is underpaying its employees. They also said that the university does not provide adequate job training or advancement opportunities to its workers.
‘We are a diverse group of people that service everyone and truly care about the university,’ said security worker Michael Patterson. ‘As security workers, we risk our lives for these people. If we leave, they’ll be left with people who don’t care as much about UC Irvine.’
The brief demonstration featured a dramatization of labor relations at the medical center and short speeches on behalf of the union.
Gilbert Sanchez, a pharmacy technician for 25 years and a union spokesperson, explained that the workers are underpaid for the amount of dedication that they show to their job. Many workers, he said, earn less than $20,000 yearly.
‘There is no way for these people to live in Orange County for that amount of money,’ Sanchez said. ‘Our pay is not keeping up with the cost of living.’
A common frustration expressed by workers at the demonstration was that the University of California could operate more cost efficiently if money was not wasted.
‘The medical center is making money. It’s been profitable, but the profits have gone to the management,’ said Maria Silvan, who works for the UCI’s housekeeping department. ‘The workers often have to work two jobs, one full-time and one part-time. People serving here for 20 years don’t make enough to live.’
Workers at the rally said that raising employee wages is not only fair, but that it would be beneficial to the university.
‘We know how to cut costs, but they don’t want to see us, don’t want to hear from us,’ Sanchez said. ‘They don’t pay enough to attract dedicated workers, so they subcontract our jobs and pay more to the temp workers they contract out to.’
Sanchez said that if wages were raised, more skilled employees would stay within the university, which would ensure that patients receive good health care.
‘There has been a lot of stalling on the management side,’ Sanchez said. ‘The longer we stall, the worse it gets. Patient care falls because workers are going to other hospitals that pay better. There is currently a nursing shortage and a technical worker shortage, and the quality of health care is declining.’
Sanchez said that the last raise that the workers received was 1.8 percent two years ago.
Kronheim, who represented the medical center at the demonstration, acknowledged the workers\” concerns and expressed wishes that an appropriate resolution would be reached soon.
‘AFSME and the university have been bargaining for a year now,’ Kronheim said. ‘The process of mediation is now being aided by state mediators. I am hopeful that we will reach a settlement in the near future.’
Although Kronheim said he was eager for an agreement between the workers and the university management, he explained that the demonstration would not necessarily expedite the bargaining process.
‘It’s a good thing that these people feel free to express their opinions,’ Kronheim said. ‘But the real negotiations take place at the bargaining table, so we’ll see how things go there.’
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