Hundreds of UC Riverside workers plan to strike today

AFSCME Local 3299 is organizing the walkout, which is set to begin at 6 a.m. at nine UC campuses.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - More than 500 custodians, cooks, landscapers and other unionized employees from UC Riverside will be on the picket lines today, joining around 20,000 fellow union members throughout the state to protest alleged ``intimidation tactics'' by UC officials during contract negotiations.

``This is an unfair labor practice strike,'' according to Liz Ortega of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. ``UC administrators harassed our members when they spoke up about the safety of students and patients they serve. It is continuing. That's the reason we're going on strike.''

AFSCME Local 3299 is organizing the walkout, which is set to begin at 6 a.m. at nine UC campuses.  

At UC Riverside, picketers will gather at University Avenue and Canyon Crest Drive for a daylong protest, according to Ortega.

The decision to stage a walkout was made after patient-care workers, including surgical technicians and respiratory therapists, alleged that UC officials attempted to use coercive measures against them to avert a strike in May.

The union filed grievances with the state Public Employment Relations Board, which validated some of the complaints in a 22-page report issued in September. 

``We want to protest their intimidation tactics,'' Ortega said. ``Our workers should be free to voice their concerns about staffing and safety'' at medical centers.

A Sacramento County Superior Court judge on Tuesday issued an injunction prohibiting some patient-care employees in ``essential'' functions -- mainly respiratory nurses -- from taking part in the Wednesday walkout. However, that will not stop other hospital workers from picketing.

``Striking is not the answer. It will only hurt patients and drive us farther apart," UC Vice President of Human Resources Dwaine Duckett wrote in a letter to union leaders. ``UC has demonstrated its commitment and ability to work through issues and reach an agreement, as we did with two other unions last week.

``I am hopeful we can do the same with AFSCME, which would not only serve your members, but will ensure that our patients and students continue to receive the critical services they depend on.''

Over the weekend, the UC system reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement with the California Nurses Association.

The UC's roughly 11,700 nurses have agreed not to participate in the AFSCME work stoppage.

According to Duckett, even without the nurses' participation, the strike will affect patients at the UC Davis Medical Center, UC Irvine Medical Center, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UC San Diego Medical Center, UC San Francisco Medical Center and San Francisco General Hospital. 

Duckett said cardiac procedures, kidney transplants, cancer treatments and other elective procedures will have to be postponed.

According to the administrator, medical centers' emergency rooms will also go into ``drive-by'' status, redirecting ambulances transporting critical patients to alternate facilities.

UC Riverside has a campus health clinic that handles low-priority cases, including women's health issues and dental procedures. Ortega said that around 15 AFSCME members work in campus health services, and she anticipated all of them would join the walkout.

Other UCR workers planning to take part include cafeteria chefs, groundskeepers, building maintenance workers and custodians, she said. 

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