UC hospitals face second day of worker strike over staffing, pensions

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Workers at University of California hospitals around the state picketed for a second day Wednesday over staffing and pension issues.

Thousands of hospital pharmacists, nursing assistants, operating room scrubs and other health care workers observed the 48-hour walkout as green-shirted picketers marched outside medical centers.

It prompted the postponement of dozens of surgeries but brought reassurances that patients at facilities in San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Francisco and Sacramento were safe.

Nurses were not on strike, emergency rooms were open, and about 450 union employees remained in critical jobs under court order.

No major problems were reported.

"We are prepared to take care of everybody in a safe fashion," said Dr. Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer of UCLA Hospital Systems.

The strike was scheduled to end Thursday morning.

There was no clear count of how many members of the union representing some 13,000 workers had joined the walkout.

"We are well into the thousands," said Todd Stenhouse, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

However, Rosenthal said a preliminary estimate indicated that more than half of union employees had reported for work Tuesday at UC facilities in the Los Angeles area.

The hospitals prepared for the strike by postponing non-essential surgeries, hiring hundreds of temporary workers and having supervisors do some jobs.

At Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, hospital pharmacists, nursing assistants, operating room scrubs and other patient care workers packed the Westwood Plaza area Wednesday as they kicked off the 48-hour walkout. 

Hundreds of workers in green AFSCME union T-shirts marched with signs that read "striking for our patients, our family, our future."

UCLA Medical Center radiation therapist Jenny Takakura helped organize the strikers.

"We are out here for patient care, we really want patient safety, we're worried about all the short staffing and all the cuts that are going on and I know we're going out on strike for these two days but we're worried about long-term about patient safety," said Takakura.

Nurses are not on strike, emergency rooms are open and about 450 union employees remain in critical jobs under court order.

UCLA officials said the estimated cost of the two-day strike to UCLA is more than $5 million due to lost revenue and costs for replacement workers.

About 30 surgeries were postponed through the strike period at Los Angeles-area facilities, Rosenthal said.

In Sacramento, more than 45 operations were delayed in the UC Davis health system, while five children's surgeries were postponed at UC San Francisco facilities, according to a UC statement.

More than 200 procedures were rescheduled at San Diego and Orange County medical facilities, officials told City News Service.

The labor dispute involved chronic and dangerously low staffing levels, Stenhouse said. UC officials have said the real issue is a refusal by the union to accept a new pension plan similar to those of other state workers.

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