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Judge: Workers at UC hospitals can strike

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POSTED May 20, 2013 9:12 p.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge affirmed on Monday that some workers at the five largest University of California medical centers can go on a planned two-day strike starting Tuesday.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David Brown denied the UC system's request for a complete injunction against a strike by the union, which represents 13,000 nursing assistants, scanning techs, operating room scrubs, pharmacists and other health care workers.

Brown partially granted the UC request for an injunction ensuring 453 workers remain on the job so public safety isn't compromised, said UC system spokeswoman Dianne Klein.

"There is reasonable cause to believe that the strike would prevent delivery of an essential public service... and therefore constitute a substantial and imminent threat to public health or safety, if all respiratory therapists in the UC Burn Centers and all pharmacists working in UCSF's California Poison Control System were permitted to strike," Brown wrote in his ruling.

But Brown also said there's no reason why others cannot strike as long as staffing remains at weekend levels for respiratory therapists working in intensive care units for children, clinical lab scientists, hospital radiation physicists and workers at San Francisco General Hospital.

Kathryn Lybarger, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the ruling "reassures the public that there will be no imminent health and safety risks associated with this week's strike."

"The court has honored our members' commitment to protect patient safety, and to stand up to UC's unsafe staffing practices and reckless cost cutting, which are too often putting our patients at risk," Lybarger said in a statement Monday.

UC hospitals that would be impacted by the strike— scheduled to start at 4 a.m. Tuesday and end at 4 a.m. Thursday — are in San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, where the UC Davis Medical Center is located.

University officials said they've had to cut back on many scheduled procedures, including postponing surgeries for children, pediatric chemotherapy sessions and other "nonessential" services.

"There may be delays," said Dr. Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for UCLA Hospitals. "Things are likely to be way slower than on a normal day. But things will be safe."

The system estimates the strike will cost it $20 million, primarily due to the cost of bringing in temporary employees and lost revenue. Rosenthal said supervisors will also be stepping up to help with operations.

The two sides are fighting over pensions and staffing levels. UC officials say the union has refused to accept a new pension plan, similar to those of other state workers, which requires more employee contributions and reduces long-term benefits for new hires.

The union contends that the university has allowed executive pensions to balloon, diverting money that would otherwise go to alleviate dangerously-low staffing levels.

 

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