‘Disrespected’: UC Davis health care workers say their proposed wage increase is ‘garbage’


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Dietitians, physical therapists and other health care professionals at UC Davis Health say that, over nearly a year of bargaining, the university’s labor negotiators have been skipping sessions and have not offered raises of more than 2 percent a year.

Ahead of one bargaining session attended by a Bee reporter this spring, labor negotiator Dan Russell asked dozens of the rank-and-file members of the University Professional and Technical Employees-Communications Workers of America: “How does that offer make you feel?”

Voices rose above a murmur of discontent, yelling, “not good,” “insulted” and “disrespected,” among other things.

Physical therapist Rachel Hammond told the UC bargaining team that day: “You can go onto the Social Security Administration website, and if you average out over the last 40 years, the average (cost-of-living adjustment) is 4 percent per year, so your offer of 2 percent a year is garbage. … When are you prepared to give us a fair contract?”

Claire Doan, a spokeswoman for the UC Office of the President, confirmed that the university system had offered raises of 2 percent a year over the life of a four-year contract. She said administrators also had offered to sweeten raises for employees in certain classifications, based on local market wages, to help ensure that pay for UC health care professionals remains competitive.

“Despite multiple proposals presented by the university, it took union leaders months to finally respond with a counter-proposal,” she said in a statement emailed to The Bee.

“UPTE leaders are demanding double-digit pay increases that are unreasonable and out of line with what other UC employees receive: 16.5 to 22 percent over the term of the agreement.”

Doan said President Janet Napolitano and other UC leaders would have no further comment because they believe the proper venue for detailed discussion of wages and related issues is at the negotiating table, not the media.

While pay is a huge issue for the health care professionals in UPTE-CWA, they are just as concerned about what they see as UC’s attempts to treat them like second-class employees, said senior dietitian Greg Wine, a labor representative for 800-plus UPTE Local 6 UCD Medical Center employees.

One example is how the university system rewards UPTE-CWA health care professionals when it comes to holiday pay, said Brandon Sessler, a physician assistant at UC San Francisco. The union’s members receive overtime pay for just six holidays, while nurses get overtime for nine such days.

Respiratory therapists, physical therapists and other UPTE-CWA members are working side-by-side with nurses on those three additional holidays, he said.

Union representatives said UC negotiators have come to only six of 16 bargaining sessions.

Wine said UC Davis negotiators told him they are too short-staffed to show up, though he said they have done so for talks with the California Nurses Association and AFSCME 3299. The attendance record didn’t change, he said, until he voiced complaints to UC Davis Chancellor Gary May and UC Davis Medical Center CEO Anne Madden Rice.

“Our clinical lab scientists are working 16-hour, back-to-back shifts,” Wine said. “They don’t tell units that they are understaffed and we cannot perform their blood work. … We cannot say to the oncology ward or our cancer patients: ‘Because of our lack of staffing … we cannot provide any services to you for the next several months.’”

Wine and other UPTE-CWA members said their departments at UCDMC are severely understaffed because the university has a hard time recruiting since salaries aren’t comparable to Kaiser or Sutter in the Sacramento market.

Neurology dietitian Erin Lavin, a UC Davis graduate, said she came back to work at UCD because she had loved being part of research there during her years as an undergraduate and wanted to have the opportunity to continue doing it while also helping patients.

Lavin said she’s taught nutrition classes in the community and at UCDMC, but always on her own time, because UC Davis doesn’t offer her professional leave for that. That would be more palatable, Lavin said, if she at least earned as much as her peers at other local health systems.

“I want to be the best dietitian I can be, and I’ll never stop doing that,” she told UC negotiators, “but I would hope that you would also try to be the best you can be for me.”

Wine said that the university had offered to increase wage ranges for new hires in some occupations beyond the 2-percent-a-year offer, but they did not propose adjusting salaries for any current employees such as he and Lavin.

The university system wants to be competitive when it comes to labor recruitment, Wine said, but once employees are hired, the university has no mechanism to address market inequities in pay.

Wine and other UC union representatives said they are all facing demands from the UC president that would shift risk from the UC system onto employees.

The UPTE-CWA health care professionals contract, which expired in October, was one of the last of six UC labor agreements to lapse without prospect for settlement, Wine said. UPTE-CWA also represents technical workers and research-support professionals — roughly 15,000 UC employees in total — and both of those contracts expired in September 2017.

About 14,000 registered nurses at UC have been without a contract since September, when an extension ran out. They are represented by the California Nurses AssociationAFSCME 3299 represents 24.000 workers in the UC system: Its patient-care workers saw their contract expire in December, and its service-unit agreement lapsed in June 2017.

All of the unions worry that UC wants to move new union hires into 401(k)-style retirement plans and away from the traditional pension that promises set income for retirement.

In a traditional pension, companies make all payments to the retirement plan and take on all investment risk. In a 401(k), workers must contribute money from their salaries toward retirement and assume the investment risk.

Pension money managers have traditionally outperformed 401(k) money managers, and although some companies have reneged on their obligation, most have proven to be more effective contributors to pensions than U.S. workers have been to their 401(k) plans. A survey of 2,003 adults by Northwestern Mutual found that one in five Americans have nothing saved at all for their golden years, and one in three have less than $5,000 put away.

With this sort of record, Wine said, Medi-Cal — and that means taxpayers — could end up paying to care for UC retirees who choose a 401(k) option. But this is not the only shifting of risk that UC is attempting during current contract negotiations, Wine said.

“They want to eliminate any cap on the shared cost of our health benefits, and they want to eliminate any cap on parking costs for their employees,” Wine said. “When you do that, what cost-of-living increase are you really getting?…Currently, we believe if we accepted the 2 percent and we accepted elimination of these caps to the costs of benefits and parking, we believe the employee would actually take home less (money).”

Both UPTE leaders and UC officials said they will continue talks in hopes of bringing negotiations to a close with a fair agreement. Wine noted that during the last contract negotiations with UC, however, UPTE-CWA members went nearly three years without a contract before an agreement was reached.



Fate of Bay Area hospitals in doubt as hedge fund deal to save them sours


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Santa Clara County interested in buying O’Connor and St. Louise

Santa Clara County is hoping to buy a pair of struggling hospitals that have long served as a safety net for the poor, less than three years after they were sold to a New York hedge fund in a state-approved deal to ensure they remained open.

County Executive Jeff Smith said the county sees a renewed opportunity to acquire O’Connor Hospital in San Jose and St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy as public hospitals to extend its reach and help relieve overcrowding at the county-run Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

“We’re watching carefully,” Smith said. “We’ve told them that we’re interested and asked them to let us know what their process is going to be.”

The county’s interest comes after Verity Health System, the Redwood City-based secular nonprofit that now runs the hospitals, announced the “potential sale of some or all” of the hospitals among options “to alleviate financial and operational pressures.”

It was less than three years ago that the Catholic Daughters of Charity, which provided medical care for California’s poor since the Gold Rush, announced the largest nonprofit hospital transaction in state history with the $260 million sale of six hospitals to a hedge fund.

The deal, blessed by a state attorney general under conditions that included facility improvements and no cuts to charity care, jobs or pay, was welcomed with guarded optimism: As hospitals struggle nationwide, a half dozen in the Bay Area and Los Angeles would stay open.

But already, the deal has soured. Verity saw operating losses of $55.8 million in the nine months that ended March 31.

The hospitals in San Jose, Gilroy, Daly City, Half Moon Bay and Los Angeles provide 1,650 inpatient beds, emergency rooms, a trauma center and a host of medical specialties, and employ 7,000.

But insurers are pushing to cut hospital stays to keep a lid on costs and premiums, shrinking hospital business. At the same time, demand for housing and commercial space has soared with California’s surging economy, raising the possibility that some of the hospitals could be turned into homes or offices.

Who would buy the hospitals, and what other alternatives are under consideration, is unclear. No hospital chains have announced interest.

“I don’t know of a system in California that would pick them up,” said Wanda J. Jones, a veteran health system planner and writer in San Francisco who has followed the deal.

San Mateo County officials could not say what might happen to Seton Medical Center in Daly City and Seton Coastside in Moss Beach, near Half Moon Bay.

“The potential closure of the hospitals and the impact on the residents they serve is very important to the county,” said Michelle Durand, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County county manager’s office. “However, we currently have made no decisions and also cannot speculate as to the potential interest of private hospital operators.”

But Santa Clara County officials have been vocal about their interest.

Daughters of Charity Health System had declined to sell the two hospitals to Santa Clara County because it wanted to sell all the hospitals as a package. After for-profit Prime Healthcare Services walked away from a potential $843 million deal to buy the six hospitals in 2015, calling then-Attorney General Kamala Harris’ conditions too burdensome, Daughters sold them to hedge fund BlueMountain Capital Management under similar terms.

A year ago, a Culver City company owned by billionaire doctor and entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, who also owns the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, bought the hedge fund’s Integrity Healthcare division that owns Verity.

Smith said that in the current landscape for hospitals, O’Connor and St. Louise would always be money-losers for a private owner, but could pencil out as public hospitals. That’s because public hospitals get reimbursed by Medi-Cal, the state’s coverage for the poor, at higher rates than private hospitals, which rely on a mix of insured patients to cover charity care costs. O’Connor and St. Louise, he said, are in areas where they won’t attract enough insured patients.

For the county, acquiring O’Connor and St. Louise would make sense, Smith said. The county’s Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose is “filled to the brim with patients, and we have great need for services,” said René G. Santiago, deputy county executive and director of the Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital System.

Some of the money to buy the hospitals could come from funds set aside for VMC renovation, Smith said.

But the six hospitals share debt and employee retirement obligations, which is what made Daughters of Charity unwilling to sell them piecemeal, Smith said.

There’s also the possibility that potential buyers may see greater use for some of the hospital properties for housing or offices. Smith said that while that wouldn’t satisfy the attorney general’s approval conditions, a seller could argue those terms were unworkable and seek a new deal.

Jones said the attorney general’s conditions made it impossible for the hospitals to survive in today’s environment, calling terms like no job cuts “insane.”

“Kamala Harris was so overboard in her requirement for what she wanted to happen,” Jones said. “You don’t put a condition like that on a buyer.”

The office of the attorney general, now under Democrat Xavier Becerra, had no comment.

Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which represents the hospitals workers, said when the possible sale was announced earlier this month that they were “disappointed.”

He said the union expects “Verity and any new buyer to be held accountable to keep hospitals open, maintain vital services, fund pension obligations, protect jobs and honor our collective bargaining agreements.”


Prime Healthcare Services unlawfully stopped nurses’ anniversary raises, court rules


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A federal appeals court ruled that Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare Services violated the National Labor Relations Act when it canceled anniversary raises for unionized nurses, according to a Reuters report.

Here are six things to know about the issue.

1. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit made the ruling May 18, affirming a previous ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

2. The NLRB found Prime “violated both the unilateral change doctrine and the duty to provide relevant information during negotiations with its employees’ bargaining representatives, Service Employees International Union Local 121RN and SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West,” according to the May 18 ruling. The NLRB specifically found Prime canceled anniversary step increases for nurses after the expiration of its labor deals with the two SEIU bargaining units, and determined the private for-profit hospital operator failed to provide information about employee healthcare programs as requested by the units. The NLRB ordered Prime to resume the raises, take care of any owed back pay due to the discontinuation of the raises and provide the requested information.

3. Both sides reached a settlement regarding complaints related to UHW’ unfair labor practice charges in the matter, and the unfair labor practice charges filed by 121RN remained at issue, according to the ruling. Prime’s agreements with 121RN, as well as UHW, were effective from Jan. 1, 2007, through March 31, 2011. The 121RN bargaining unit represents registered nurses at Prime’s Encino (Calif.) Hospital Medical Center, while UHW represents service and technical employees at Encino and Prime’s Garden Grove (Calif.) Hospital Medical Center.

4. Prime argued, among other things, that the anniversary step increases were terminated when the labor deal with 121RN expired in 2011 because they were tied to annual pay increases in the expired contract, according to the ruling.

5. The appeals court found “no merit in these challenges, however. Accordingly, we deny the petition for review and grant the [NLRB] board’s cross-application for enforcement of its order.”

6. In response to the ruling, Jamie Konn, outside counsel for Prime, told Becker’s Hospital Review: “This is an old matter that is now behind us. Encino and 121RN entered into a collective bargaining agreement in November 2014. The parties will continue to work together, and this matter should be resolved soon.”


Allina nurses reject contract, remain on strike



Allina Health hospital nurses voted Monday night to reject a contract offer from their employer, increasing the likelihood that their walkout over health benefits, staffing and safety concerns will go down as the longest nursing strike in Minnesota history.

While the Minnesota Nurses Association had not recommended a “no” vote, many nurses said they felt Allina’s latest offer was too similar to one they rejected in August, and to the terms their union negotiators rejected during last-ditch negotiations in September to avert a strike.

A new sign reading “New Lipstick, Same Pig” appeared at the picket line outside Allina’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis Monday morning, foreshadowing the vote result that the union announced at 10:30 p.m. in St. Paul.

While she declined to provide exact results, MNA executive director Rose Roach called the vote margin “resounding” and said it sent a clear message from front-line nurses to go back to the bargaining table. “Each of them voted with their conscience, and with their patients and their families in mind,” she said.

The results mean that strikes will continue at Abbott as well as United Hospital in St. Paul, Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, Unity Hospital in Fridley and the Phillips Eye Institute in Minneapolis.

More than 4,000 nurses have been on strike for 29 days, since Labor Day, after a one-week walkout in June. The state’s longest nursing strike, in 1984, lasted 38 days.

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