Dwaine Duckett, University of California vice president for systemwide human resources, issued the following statement today (April 19) regarding an announced strike vote by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ (AFSCME) union, which represents UC patient care employees:

AFSCME’s announced strike vote is another attempt to divert attention away from the key issue in our contract negotiations with union leaders: their refusal to agree to UC’s pension reforms. These pension reforms apply to UC faculty and staff hired on or after July 1, 2013. Eight other UC unions representing 14 bargaining units have already agreed to them. UC’s pension reforms also are similar to what has been implemented for state employees, some of whom are represented by AFSCME.

In addition to the strike vote announcement, AFSCME recently launched a campaign to spread negative information about the quality of patient care at our medical centers in an attempt to gain leverage at the bargaining table. Our medical centers are renowned for providing world-class patient care and consistently are ranked among the best medical centers in the country for quality care, innovation, groundbreaking research and education.

By encouraging a possible strike among our patient care employees, AFSCME is attempting to use patient care as a tool in contract negotiations, and potentially endangering public health, which is completely inappropriate. Patients are not bargaining chips.

As a public institution, UC has an obligation to manage its employee benefits in a financially prudent way, which is exactly what UC’s pension reforms are aimed at accomplishing. Like many other employers, including the State of California, UC is enacting substantive pension reforms in order to provide retirement benefits that adequately recognize our employees’ service to the university and the people of California, and that are also financially sustainable over the long term.

UC has bargained in good faith with AFSCME since last June, and we have presented AFSCME leaders with an attractive total economic package that includes:

  • Annual wage increases of up to 3.5 percent for the next four years (which include skill- and experience-based steps) — increases that are on top of the 5 percent pay increases patient care employees have received in each of the last two years
  • Quality pension benefits that many public and private organizations no longer offer
  • Good employee health benefits
  • Health benefits for retirees, which very few public or private employers offer

Thus far, AFSCME has rejected all of UC’s proposals and is demanding higher wage increases and lower payments for benefits as compared to other UC employees, which we don’t believe is fair.

The way to resolve differences about employee pay and benefits is through substantive and collaborative discussion at the bargaining table — not by threatening strikes that endanger patient care. As we have for nearly the past year, we will continue to be open to compromise and do what we can on our side of the negotiating table to reach a fair and financially responsible contract for our employees. But we cannot do it all ourselves. AFSCME leaders must engage in a substantive way.