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labor Student-Care Doctors Strike Across UC campuses, Allege Unfair Labor Practices

University of California student-care doctors went on strike Tuesday to protest unfair labor practices.

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Student-care doctors from all ten UC campuses went on strike Tuesday to protest unfair labor practices allegedly committed by the university during the bargaining process for their first contract.

The one-day strike included picketing at six campuses and rallies at four. The doctors believe the university engaged in unfair negotiation, including the university’s alleged refusal to provide financial information the doctors say is essential to bargaining. At UC Berkeley, they chanted and held signs that said “Prioritize student health” and “Too many executives, not enough doctors.”

The approximately 150 full-time doctors, part-time doctors and specialists represented by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists work at university health centers and provide healthcare for students. They joined the union in late 2013, and have been bargaining with the university for their first contract for about a year. This group does not include doctors at the university’s five large medical centers, which serve the public.

About 25 full-time and part-time doctors who work at UC Berkeley are represented by the union, most of whom picketed Tuesday, according to union spokesperson Sue Wilson.

The UAPD represents about 2,500 physicians who work primarily in the public sector at institutions such as prisons and mental health facilities, Wilson said. This strike is the first by fully-licensed doctors against a U.S. employer in 25 years, and the first time in the UAPD’s 43-year history that its doctors have felt the need to strike, according to a union press release.

At UC Berkeley, the strike began in front of the Tang Center at about 7:30 a.m. with doctors in white lab coats picketing. By about 8:30 a.m., more than 20 people, mostly UC Berkeley doctors, chanted and held signs. At noon, the demonstrators held a rally, at which more than 60 individuals — doctors from UC Berkeley and UCSF along with union representatives — listened to speeches.

Though regular appointments were rescheduled, the Tang Center remained open for urgent services, as were student health facilities at other UC campuses.

The specific grievances brought against the university include an alleged refusal to divulge information about the university’s finances critical to the bargaining process, such as the amount of money available in campus chancellors’ discretionary funds.

“You can’t finish a negotiation if you don’t know where the other party stands,” Wilson said.

UC spokesperson Shelly Meron said that the union has filed charges with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, which has not yet issued a formal decision. She called the demonstration a “hasty strike.”

“We don’t feel the issues warrant a strike that impacts students,” she said. “The best way to resolve issues is at the bargaining table, not at the picket line.”

The doctors unionized in response to both financial and policy pressure from the university, according to Dr. Lynne Alper, who has worked for the university for more than 20 years. The student health centers were finding it difficult to hire and retain doctors, Alper said.

Additionally, she said doctors felt inadequate funding for mental health services left primary care physicians struggling to care for more acutely ill patients.

“People would come in for their ankle, and all of a sudden their psychiatric issues would come out,” said Jeff Duritz, a union representative.

Bargaining will continue until a contract is reached. To Jeff Nelson, a UC Berkeley physician who has been involved in the negotiation, the university seems unyielding.

“The UC is notorious for dragging negotiations out,” he said. “It’s kind of their M.O.”

Sahil Chinoy is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at schinoy@dailycal.org and follow him on Twitter @sahilchinoy_dc.