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UC “disappointed” in unionized optometrist strike, claims unlawful pressure tactics

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The university has filed a charge with California’s Public Employment Relations Board that the strikes violate terms in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.

Clipboard with contract Image Credit: AdobeStock/H_Ko

Image Credit: AdobeStock/H_Ko

The University of California (UC) is claiming that the recent strike organized by University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 (UPTE-CWA 9119) was unlawful and breaches the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) terms.

“We’re disappointed that the optometrists added to the HX unit chose to hold this work stoppage [on February 6 and 7],” UC said in a statement.

On February 2, 2024, UC filed an unfair practice charge against the States of California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), citing that Article 21 of the parties’ CBA prohibits lockouts by UC, as well as “strikes, stoppages, or interruptions of work, or other concerted activities, including sympathy strikes, which interfere directly or indirectly with university operations during the life of this agreement or any written extension thereof.” UC alleges in the filing that this, in turn, is a violation of the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act.1

“The parties will not begin bargaining the terms and conditions of the CBA until this summer; however, we are currently bargaining the addition of approximately 80 optometrists to the UPTE unit,” UC said in its statement. “The university did not oppose UPTE's 2022 petition to add these 83 positions to its Health Care Professionals (HX) unit, and the UC values the critical services they provide to patients across the system. The University has met with UPTE 11 times since the beginning of 2023 to work through issues associated with integrating the optometrists into the HX unit.”

“During this limited integration bargaining process, we’ve reached a tentative agreement on some issues, such as incentive compensation,” UC continued. “Although unresolved items remain, we believe existing bargaining processes and channels provide the mechanisms for fair and honest negotiation of critical issues, meaningful dialogue, and for each side to reach mutually beneficial agreements.”

Still, 87% of UC optometrists were on the picket lines at several UC locations through February 6 and 7, according to Hai Tong, OD, of UC Davis Eye Center. “UC optometrists’ state-wide strike is a culmination of multi-year long failures on the part of UC to recognize optometry’s contribution to our communities,” she said. “UC’s refusal or reluctance to properly classify the profession of optometry hinders appropriate professional compensation. Ultimately, this hurts retention and recruitment of young, talented doctors that are needed for our patients,” Tong said.

UC denies the UPTE-CWA 9119’s reason for striking this month due to unfair labor practice, which was also claimed in the labor union’s unfair practice charge filed with PERB on January 10, 2024. UC’s charge filing recognizes these claims, stating “The university strongly denies that the strike is caused by any alleged unfair practices.” UC claims that the strike was held as a pressure tactic.1

“The university believes the planned UTPE action related to this limited group of employees is an unlawful exercise by the union since their contract contains a no-strike clause that prevents work stoppages and requires the union to prevent disruptive behavior,” UC said in its statement. “Violating that clause erodes mutual respect, creates unnecessary adversity and impacts the continuity of care for California patients seeking optometry care.”

Patients that were impacted by the strike were notified by location, according to UC.

Reference
  1. Unfair Practice Charge. State of California Public Employment Relations Board, the regents of the University of California. Government Document. Published February 2, 2024. Accessed February 9, 2024.
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