9/29/07

Medical workers picket UCLA

Workers at the UCLA Medical Center picketed Thursday in an effort to draw attention to contract negations with the University of California regarding wages, benefits and pensions. The contract for the UC’s approximately 11,000 patient care technical employees, who generally perform technical and administrative work in hospitals, expires Sept. 30.

Wages for these employees are 30 to 50 percent lower than those of workers doing comparable jobs at other hospitals, according to a statement released by Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The UC has similar goals to those of the union – such as increasing salaries to “market-competitive” levels, but the university depends on limited funding from the state, said Nicole Savickas, a spokeswoman for the UC Office of the President.

“From a university perspective, we have to consider all employee groups, and our emphasis is increasing salaries in an equitable manner,” Savickas said.

According to Savickas, there have only been six meetings between the UC and the union since bargaining began in August, which has not given the university enough time to reach a compromise.

While the issues being negotiated are numerous, Lakesha Harrison, president of AFSCME Local 3299, said there are several the union considers very important.

These include a $15 minimum wage, an end to increasing health care premiums, a free health care plan and more employee input regarding pension plans.

One of the main causes the union is fighting for is a step pay system, which would directly tie salaries to seniority. According to Harrison, step systems are already common practice in most hospitals.

Harrison said the step system would create fairer compensation for those workers who have been employed by the university for many years.

These employees are currently compensated according to a range system, Savickas said. Workers are paid minimum, medium and maximum wages depending on several factors, including location, job title, department, duties and flexibility, she said.

Ludwin G. Paredes, a secretary and nurse assistant at the UCLA Medical Center who attended the demonstration, said he and other workers want the respect from the university that a larger salary and greater benefits would demonstrate.

Pilar Burgess, a unit support associate who has been working for the UC for 20 years also present at the protest, agreed that workers need more support from the university.

She is most personally affected by health care benefits, including increasing copays, she said.

“I really want this management to think about what they do to us because this is going to hurt our families, ourselves and our coworkers.”

(dailybruin.ucla.edu)

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