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UC Medical Systems Must Reform Pensions to Prioritize Patients

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Thousands of frontline workers at all five University of California medical centers will strike at the end of this month as a last resort response to the UC medical centers’ refusal to pay a fair wage and provide livable benefits.


Written by Editorial Board

Negotiations have been going on since September, and the UC medical centers must resolve the gridlock. UC administrators need to reallocate funds to resolve wage inequality and put patients first.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 has been campaigning for better wages for hospital technicians, vocational nurses and service workers. The UC Health System previously proposed the union annual wage increases of up to 3.5 percent for the next four years, on top of unspecified health and pension benefits, but these offers aren’t enough. For a union member who has worked in a UC hospital for 20 years, the grand total of these allowances amounts to a paltry $19,000 annual pension — not including further deductions for health care premiums.

This cavalier treatment of hospital workers is a stark contrast to the generous salaries of the highest-paid UC executives who take home $300,000 annually. In an ironic twist, 36 of these executives even had the audacity to threaten to sue the UC system in 2010 when UC President Mark G. Yudof wanted to cap their pensions at $183,000.

Examples of this irresponsibility can be found elsewhere. Under the same deficient oversight that has granted an extra $100 million to executive salaries since 2009, the UCSD Student Health Insurance Plan has operated at a yearly loss and has accrued a staggering $57 million debt.

Finances are not the only issue, though. With the UC medical centers’ unwillingness to negotiate an agreement and nurses and technicians out on the picket lines, patient health is jeopardized.

The mudslinging over this issue has already commenced, with the UC medical centers accusing AFSCME of using patients as bargaining chips to avoid the real issue of pension reform. However, AFSCME has already proven its willingness to forego traditional lines in the sand with a patient protection task force that will tend to patients’ emergency needs during the strike. The union has also committed to giving a 10-day notice before the strike, which will allow medical centers time to find replacements.

In contrast, the UC medical centers have not shown such concern. The medical centers have a history of laying off career workers and replacing them with temporary workers who have far less experience, but also cost much less to have on board. Until the university hospitals can demonstrate that their hiring practices are in the best interests of their patients, and not the money in their pockets, they have no justification to accuse others of jeopardizing patient care.

Back in February, UCSD students joined a group of AFSCME workers in protest of the low wages that the UC system doles out to the workers who take care of patients. These students should be commended for recognizing this injustice, and more students should voice their support on May 21 to May 22.

[Source]: UCSD Guardian


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