Op-ed addresses labor dispute at UC medical centers.
By John Stobo
The following op-ed by John Stobo, UC senior vice president for health sciences and services, was published July 31 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
At the University of California, our hospitals treat patients facing complex medical conditions that require specialty care of the highest standard. And Californians count on UC medical centers not only to meet, but to exceed, that standard.
In the latest U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals rankings, UC hospitals were recognized as No. 1 in their metropolitan areas and all five medical centers (Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco) were nationally ranked, with two listed among the nation’s top 10 hospitals: Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center (No. 5) and UCSF Medical Center (No. 7).
Yet the union representing our patient-care workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, claims that our medical centers are so short-staffed that we are putting patients at risk.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
These rankings show the care provided by our physicians, nurses and staff, as measured by survival rates for the most demanding cases, patient safety and other performance categories such as staffing levels.
In fact, we have increased staffing. AFSCME-represented patient-care technical staff employed at UC’s medical centers has risen 13 percent over the past five years, ranging from 6 percent at UC San Diego to 11 percent at UCSF to about 20 percent at UCLA.
We operate in a highly regulated environment and couldn’t do our job without adequate staffing.
Last week, after more than a year of collective bargaining, state-assisted mediation and a two-day strike, UC implemented its latest wage and benefits proposal for these patient-care workers.
The university has guaranteed these employees two wage increases this year – on top of raises for each of the past two years – and required them to contribute to UC’s pension plan at the same rate as non-represented faculty and staff, as well employees in eight other unions.
Pension issues have been at the heart of this dispute with AFSCME, but the Local 3299 leadership has instead tried to shift the public’s focus with unfounded charges of unsafe staffing levels.
Like other public agencies, including the state of California, UC is enacting financially responsible reforms to protect future retirement benefits for all employees. Earlier this month, AFSCME finally offered to make some concessions on pensions.
However, the total cost of the union’s offer was too high and would favor AFSCME members over our other employees, which we feel is fundamentally unfair.
Union leadership has quoted me as saying that we can do better in our clinical enterprise. That’s true. We strive continually to improve and look for ways to better serve patients and operate more efficiently. U.S. News & World Report has recognized our successes.
A failure to come to an agreement with all our employees on pension reform places this crucial mission in jeopardy. If AFSCME truly wants to focus on serving patients, it should put down its picket signs and help resolve these negotiations.