Angie Crouch, Troy McLaurin
Hospital union workers hit the picket line Tuesday at five University of California medical campuses across the state, including ones in Santa Monica and Westwood. The workers say proposed cuts to hospital staffing would put patient care at risk. Angie Crouch reports from Westwood for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 21, 2013.
Medical workers across the University of California health care system plan to strike for the next two days in an effort to push forward negotiations for a new contract.
The strike, which began Tuesday morning, involves workers at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UC Irvine Medical Center and University of California hospitals across the state. In Westwood, workers gathered outside UCLA Medical Center, where about 20 to 25 percent of non-life threatening surgeries scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday were placed on hold.
"Our main concern is patient care and patient safety," said Kathryn Lybarger, union president. "They're being told to do more with less. The hospital is highly profitable... and they're lining the executives' pockets. That's not fair."
Dr. John Stobo, UC's senior vice president for Health Sciences and Services, estimated the strike will cost $20 million across the five medical centers -- UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Davis and UC San Francisco. Dwaine Duckett, vice president for human resources at UC, said hospitals across the UC system were postponing surgeries due to the walkout.
Nurses were not on strike, emergency rooms were open, and about 450 union employees remained in critical jobs under court order. The striking workers will be available to provide services if there is an emergency, Lybarger said.
No major problems were reported in the initial hours of the strike as green-shirted picketers gathered in front of hospitals.
UC officials went to court in Sacramento Monday in hopes of halting the strike on the basis of patient safety. A judge issued a restraining order, preventing about 100 workers across the UC system from taking part in the walkout to ensure that vital services would not be disrupted.
Duckett said the injunction was "more limited than what we were seeking."
UC officials insisted that they have offered a fair wage and benefit proposal, saying the sticking points in negotiations are pension contributions, which would increase for employees from 5 percent to 6.5 percent in the most recent talks; a new tier of pension benefits for workers hired on or after July 1; and revised eligibility rules for retiree health benefits.
According to UC, the latest four-year contract offer includes wage increases of up to 3.5 percent per year over the life of the deal. Union officials, however, have accused UC of failing to negotiate in good faith and limiting worker salaries while earning millions in profits.