University of California Walkout Impacted Tens of Thousands
By Larry Gordon
Some surgeries were postponed, some student dining hall hours reduced and some classes canceled as UC's medical centers and academic campuses reported an uneven impact of a one-day labor strike Wednesday.
The walkout by thousands of service workers, patient care employees, student tutors and others was said to be peaceful with no arrests at the nine campuses and five medical centers affected throughout the state. UC Santa Cruz appeared to be the most heavily affected: Demonstrators blocked the two campus auto entrances and, as a result, many operations such as libraries and cafeterias there were significantly reduced or shut for the day, officials said.
The UC system and the unions disagreed on how many workers were taking part in the strike, which brought picket lines and rallies to UC facilities.
At UCLA medical centers, officials estimated that about 75% of unionized workers showed up for work and that some replacement workers could be sent home earlier than anticipated, according to Dr. Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for the UCLA Hospital System. As a result, the day was turning out to be "an easier proposition" than originally feared, Rosenthal said.
Still, he said as many as 15 surgeries were postponed and at least $2 million in costs incurred from replacement workers' wages and lost revenues.
However, 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 walkout but that the university could not be trusted to provide accurate statistics. Judging by the turnout at UC San Francisco picket lines under umbrellas in heavy rain, he said 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.
AFSCME 3299, which has been negotiating with UC for a new contract, conducted a two-day strike in May. Its Wednesday walkout, union officials said, was called to protest what they allege are unfair labor practices, intimidation of workers and dangerously low staffing levels. The UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865, which represents 12,000 student tutors, readers and teaching assistants, urged its members to strike in sympathy.
At UC Santa Cruz, campus spokesman Jim Burns said that the school was more heavily impacted than others since it has just two auto entrances and both were blocked by picket lines. Drivers were then told not to attempt to come to campus.
"In many respects we are certainly not operational today," Burns said. But he said the school is "emphasizing safety over access." One dining hall was open and four are closed; many classes were canceled and the science and engineering library was closed while the main library was opened.
The one-day strike lost some of its potential punch over the weekend when UC reached a four-year tentative contract agreement with the California Nurses Assn., which represents about 11,700 nurses at UC facilities. The nurses previously had been set to take part in a sympathy walkout on Wednesday but then decided not to join the strike.
A Superior Court judge in Sacramento, at the request of the state Public Employment Relations Board, on Tuesday barred 50 or so specialized medical workers, mainly respiratory therapists, from joining the strike. Their union said it already had exempted those employees from the walkout. In addition, the union says its workers are available to help in any emergencies at medical centers at UCLA and in Irvine, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.
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