The union representing nearly 13,000 University of California patient-care workers plans to take a strike vote beginning Tuesday.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME 3299, will hold the strike vote through Thursday and announce results next week. The vote comes after nearly a year of negotiations between the workers and UC over staffing, pay and pension reforms. The contract expired in September.
Union President Kathryn Lybarger said the university is putting profits above patient safety and that workers want better staffing and fair pay. The hospitals have seen more understaffing and the use of temporary employees, she said.
"That is not good for patient care," she said. "We have definitely seen an increase in problems inside the hospital."
UC officials said the strike vote is an effort to "divert attention" from the key sticking issue of pension reform. "The issue is not patient safety," said spokeswoman Dianne Klein, who said UC medical centers are among the best in the nation.
UCLA Health System Chief Medical Officer Tom Rosenthal said he was concerned about a possible strike and about patients being used as a "bargaining chip." Rosenthal said his staff is preparing in case the union does move forward.
"We find it quite disappointing that the union might choose to put patients in the middle," he said.
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