UC Health care Employees Frustrated by Lagging Contract Negotiations

Health care professionals across the UC system, whose collective contracts have been expired for over six months, are currently in negotiations with the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) for better wages and stable pensions.

Meeting with UCOP representatives several times a month, the University Professional and Technical Employees Communication Workers of America (UPTE-CWA), the union that represents over 16,000 health care professionals and employees within the UC system, presented 28 articles to discuss at the beginning of negotiations.

The completely member-run union has been sending current UC employees to speak with representatives; however, negotiations have been habitually stalled by absent and unprepared negotiators from UCOP or extremely slow responses.

Greg Wine, a union leader at the UC Davis campus and senior dietician said, “What the UCs are doing is a bad business model. It is completely unproductive, and to wait for the contract to expire, to continue to delay negotiations until employees and students are so angered harms the reputation of the University.”

Following the expiration of the contracts, workers entered into a period of status quo, meaning the University is not liable for paying for benefits and raises and could forego protections of its employees.

This standstill comes at a time when salaries and pay are already low compared to market-levels. “The UCs have proposed a two percent increase across the board…they’re offering this small little boost because they can’t hire workers because the wages they are offering are 10 to 30 percent below market. No one wants to work here because they can leave and go into the private sector or a private hospital and make so much more money,” Wine said, explaining the reason behind the chronic shortage of health care professionals on campuses.

The negotiations come at an especially critical time as the Supreme Court has just begun hearings for Janus v. AFSCME, whose decision could significantly weaken unions by allowing members to choose not to pay union fees as an expression of their first amendment rights. The decision is expected to come out in early summer, the same time Wine believes the negotiations for the UC contracts will wrap up.

While it is unclear whether UCOP is intentionally waiting for the decision from the Supreme Court, the potential threat of a weakened union has made the negotiations slightly more urgent.

The negotiations are expected to continue on March 1 and 2 at the UC Davis campus. For health care professionals specifically, the negotiations have been frustrating, as their demands have often regarded contract language more than anything else. Wine said, “What’s especially insulting is that a lot of the changes we want to make are aligning the languages across all the contracts. So to know they’ve already approved some of our changes in other contracts but refuse to do so for us really doesn’t make any sense.”

Speaking on the support shown from students across the campuses, Wine says the union is incredibly appreciative and heartened by the support. Protests organized on UC campuses often include students standing in solidarity with the workers.

“Unfortunately, it seems that the UCs have to wait until there are demonstrations and strikes before they do anything; generally what pushes the negotiations is public embarrassment and we don’t want that for the University,” Wine said. “Our goal is always to make the UCs a better place to work and better university for the public.”