Important information for UC employees about an AFSCME strike
AFSCME, the union representing UC patient care and service employees, has announced it will ask its members to strike at UC medical centers May 21-22.  It is very important that AFSCME-represented employees understand the implications of a strike, and make an informed choice about whether or not to support a strike.

Legality of an AFSCME strike
Q.  Is it legal for AFSCME to strike?
A.  Striking is a serious matter, especially when it affects vital public services like patient care.  State law requires that strikes should be considered only as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted.  Strikes that pose a substantial and imminent threat to public health or safety are illegal under state law.  Even if a strike is legal, it may be an unfair practice under state labor law. UC believes a strike targeting patient care employees at UC medical centers would pose an imminent threat to public health and safety and improperly withhold health care from members of the public.  

UC also believesAFSCME has not, in good faith, explored all options through the bargaining process.  Further, UC considers ithighly inappropriate for AFSCME to threaten patient care as a tactic in contract negotiations.

Q.  Has AFSCME ever been legally prohibited from striking?
A.  Yes.  In 2008, AFSCME leaders called on UC patient care employees to strike at all five UC medical centers.  UC petitioned the Public Employment Relations Board, the state agency that oversees public sector collective bargaining, to request a restraining order against the strike on UC’s behalf.  PERB issued a complaint against AFSCME for bad-faith bargaining and for encouraging employees to strike even though their absence from work would clearly endanger the public's safety. The Superior Court of San Francisco issued a restraining order prohibiting the union’s strike.  See www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/article/18206  [New; from press release]

Q.  Is it legal for other UC unions to join in the AFSCME strike?
A.  If AFSCME’s strike is deemed illegal or unprotected, then any other union joining in the strike would also be engaging in illegal or unprotected activity.  Also, many of UC’s labor contracts contain “No Strikes” provisions so any union with such a contract who joins AFSCME’s strike would be in violation of its contract.

Impacts of a strike on patient care
Q.  Will a strike impact patients?
A.  There is no question a strike will impact patients.  UC will do its utmost to continue to provide care and services to patients who are most in need.  However, when a union threatens to strike our medical centers, UC must begin to take steps such as suspending services in areas where patient needs are less acute.  The hospitals may also decrease patient levels prior to the strike and then gradually increase them back to normal after the strike. This could mean denying critical and elective patient care for approximately two weeks and reducing staff in those units with reduced patient levels. Patient referrals from outlying communities may be lost, damaging the public trust in our medical facilities. Critical trauma patients may need to be diverted to non-level I facilities, potentially reducing their quality of patient care.

Impacts of striking on employee pay, benefits and/or work
Q.  If I strike, will I lose pay and benefits? May I use compensatory or vacation time for the time I miss?
A.  You will not be paid for time lost due to participating in a strike.  Employees who participate in a strike will not be allowed to use compensatory time or vacation leave to make up for the pay they lose because of striking.  Benefits that are affected by the percentage of time worked during the month may be affected.

Q.  Will I lose pay if I’m simply absent from work during the strike?
A.  If any employee does not report to work as assigned, UC will presume—absent prior authorization or medical certification— that her/his work absence during a strike period is strike related.  Employees who are absent from work without authorization during a strike will not be paid for the absence.  As is always the case, authorization for an absence from work (e.g., vacation leave) may or may not be granted, depending on operational necessity and without regard to the employee's reason for the requested leave.

Coming to work during a strike
Q.  Will AFSCME-represented employees be barred from coming to work during a strike?
A.  No. Under the law, you’re free to cross a picket line and come to work.

Q.  If I come to work during a strike, what pay and benefits will I receive?
A.  If you come to work, you will receive the same pay and benefits as you normally do.

Q.  If I'm in the union, am I obligated to strike?  Can the union penalize me for not striking?
A.  No employee is ever obligated to strike. Unions are legally prohibited from threatening or coercing members in other ways to keep them from coming to work.  Some unions can fine dues-paying members (but not nonmembers) for working during a strike. A union member who does not want to strike may contact her/his local union representative to confirm there will not be fines.  UC won’t deduct fines from employees’ paychecks.

Q.  What if I want to work but I’m being blocked or confronted by picketers or striking workers?
A.  Pickets are lawful so long as they are peaceful, conducted only on public property (i.e., sidewalks), do not block access, do not interfere with the normal course of business, and do not prohibit non-striking employees from working.  UC will assist employees who want to work by providing security or transportation across picket lines.  Non-striking employees should avoid confrontations, and need not respond to comments from picketers.  Non-striking employees should not invite or engage in any exchanges, which might inflame the situation.  If an employee feels s/he is being harassed or prevented from working by picketers or striking employees, the employee should notify their supervisor or campus labor relations office immediately.

Contract negotiations – key issues
Q.  What is this dispute about – what’s blocking an agreement?
A.  In UC’s view, the key issue blocking a deal is AFSCME’s objections to UC’s pension reforms, which include:• Increased contributions toward the cost of pension benefits from both UC and employees (currently 10 and 5 percent respectively, increasing to 12 and 6.5 percent respectively July 1, 2013)• A new category (“tier”) of pension benefits for employees hired on or after July 1, 2013• Revised eligibility rules for retiree health benefits

Like many employers, including the State of California, UC is enacting pension reforms to help address a $24 billion unfunded liability to its retirement programs, and enable UC to continue to offer pension benefits that adequately recognize employees’ service and also are financially sustainable.UC’s reforms apply to tenure-track faculty and staff hired on or after July 1, 2013.  Eight UC unions representing 14 bargaining units have agreed to these reforms.  

UC’s pension reforms are also similar to what has been implemented for state employees, some of whom are represented by AFSCME.  AFSCME has not accepted any of UC’s proposals, and is demanding its members pay less than other UC employees for the same benefits which UC believes is unfair to other employees.  

Q.  What is UC currently offering patient care employees?
A. UC is offering a competitive total economic package for patient care employees that includes:• Up to 3.5 percent annual wage increases for the next four years – increases that are on top of the 5 percent wage increases AFSCME members received in each of the last two years, a time when many other UC employees received smaller increases or no increases• Excellent health care benefits• Quality pension and retiree health benefits that few public or private organizations nationwide offer

Q.  Is UC refusing to negotiate with AFSCME?
A.  As the bargaining record shows (http://ucal.us/PatientCareTechs), UC has been bargaining in good faith with AFSCME for nearly a year.  Negotiations have included help from a state mediator and a neutral fact-finder.  UC remains open to compromise and committed to reaching a fair and financially responsible contract for employees, but UC cannot do it alone.  AFSCME leaders must engage in a substantive way.

Talking to supervisors
Q.  Am I permitted to talk to my supervisor or unit manager about any of this?
A.  Absolutely. Your manager is another resource for answers and information.