Student health doctors from across the UC went on strike last Tuesday in response to unfair labor practices filed against the university.
This marked the first-ever strike by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, a 43-year old union, and the first doctors’ strike in the United States in over 25 years.
The doctors, who are represented by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD), alleged that the university has not provided them with the financial information that they need to bargain effectively at the negotiation table.
In 2013, the student health doctors–who are distinct from doctors who work at UC medical centers–joined UAPD in order to bargain for their first contract. UAPD represents over 150 student health physicians across the 10 UC campuses. Since 2013, UAPD has been in over 42 bargaining sessions with the UC.
The information that union representatives are asking from the university includes that regarding where student tuition is being allocated as well a breakdown of the money spent on recent increases to chancellors’ salaries.
Despite being supported by over 95 percent of UCI’s doctors, the decision to strike was not at the forefront of doctors’ concerns.
“We became doctors because we want to take care of patients,” said Dr. Sonya Raminsky, a psychiatrist working the Student Health Center.
Raminsky emphasized that the strike is not meant to antagonize the local health center administration. Rather, the strike was meant as a demonstration to top UC administrators that ?
According to Raminsky, who emphasized that striking is usually not something doctors do, the doctors were pushed to strike because of workplace conditions that make it difficult for them to adequately provide care for students.
Although not the primary focus of the labor stoppage, UAPD and UC are also currently negotiating wage increases.
The university’s proposal will result in a 15.5 percent salary increase over the next four years. Upon ratification of the contract, physicians would get a 3.5 percent increase to pay, followed by a 3 percent increase for the next four years. On the union side, doctors are asking for a 27 percent increase over the next four years.
Union representatives stressed that the strike’s main focus is not over wages and that the increases are part of an effort to better recruit and retain physicians to provide quality care for students.
“The wages are going to flow,” said Steve Cook, a union representative. He said that the wages will settle in accordance with market forces, and that good-faith negotiation is what the doctors really want.
Because the doctors are classified as salaried exempt employees, they don’t receive overtime pay even when their schedules run two to four hours over the normal 8-hour work day.
“A lot of times they double book,” said Cook, referring to the practice of scheduling two patients for the same time slot with the expectation that one will cancel their appointment.
“When they don’t cancel out, now you have the extra seven or eight patients. And then they expect you to see all those patients,” he said. According to Cook, excessive hours results in a decline of care that students are able to receive.
Another factor that exacerbates the declining quality of care students receive is a shortage of medical staff.
Raminsky is one of only a handful of psychiatric doctors that are responsible for a campus of nearly 30,000 students.
“We are woefully understaffed in terms of serving the mental healthcare of students, which the university has acknowledged as a huge issue,” she said.
During last month’s meeting, the UC regents discussed additional funding for mental health services. The influx of funds would come from the student services fee, which is set to increase alongside tuition by as much as 5 percent According to UC spokeswoman Shelly Meron, $16 of the new funds would go towards the hiring of new counseling staff.
“We want more than anything to provide adequate mental health coverage,” Kaminsky said.