Following a one-day protest in January, union doctors and dentists at University of California student health centers embarked on another four-day strike in early April. The demonstration is believed to be the first job action by medical doctors in the United States in 25 years and features members from all 10 UC campuses. The protesters say that the strike was designed to draw attention to illegal bargaining practices the administration has used in recent negotiations and that the strike did not affect student access to medical care.
The protests began in Northern and Central California on Thursday, April 9, with health care providers walking out of clinics at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced and UC San Francisco. By Saturday, April 11, medical professionals at UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara had joined suit, picketing outside the UCLA Ashe Student Health Wellness Center in their white lab coats.
Representatives from the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, which represents the doctors and dentists at the UC student health centers, reported that the protests would continue until Monday, April 13 for the Northern and Central participants, while the LA protests were planned to last until Wednesday, April 15. However, these same representatives said that the health centers would remain open, staffed by employees who had declined to participate in the strike.
Union members said that they were protesting the UC administration’s refusal to provide financial information they need to negotiate contracts. Others mentioned the $57 million deficit the institution’s health services faced in 2013, claiming that the mismanaged insurance funds could have been better used to improve the student health system. The protest was reportedly designed to strike up a conversation and convey information about the role the health centers play on each campus, unfair labor practices and more. With the UCLA strike coinciding with the university’s “Bruin Day” and open house for admitted students and their guardians, they undoubtedly attracted attention from parents and students alike.
In response, UC spokesmen stated that the institution is “disappointed” by the strike, declaring that the union has refused to discuss the allegedly illegal practices during negotiations. The representatives have also noted that the strike only affects the student health centers, not the UC training hospitals, medical insurance, health maintenance organization and private insurance centers. However, the UC system vowed that it was taking appropriate actions to ensure that students would have uninterrupted access to needed medical services.
The health center employees unionized in 2013 and have since spent over a year negotiating for better wages, benefits and working conditions. However, with their current efforts showing few results, the strikes will likely continue into the future. In light of probable new protests, students and other area residents will be able to seek care at other UC health centers, as well as local urgent care clinics. Studies show that an estimated 80.7% of urgent care centers in the U.S. provide care for bone fractures, splinting procedures and more, meaning that they will be able to treat any non-life-threatening condition UC’s health systems are unable to handle.