Members of the University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 drew picket lines on February 6 and 7 to protest unfair labor and bargaining practices upheld by University of California.
Updated 3:59 pm
Optometrists from multiple University of California (UC) Health locations protested "bad-faith" bargaining practices in a strategic strike on February 6 and 7 after claiming unfair labor practices leading to low salaries.
The optometrists, members of the University Professional and Technical Employees CWA Local 9119 (UPTE-CWA 9119), held picket lines at 4 University of California Health medical buildings across California. These locations included UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health in San Diego, and University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center at Mission Bay in San Francisco.1
"The consequences are clear as day: More optometrists are leaving, and we face hiring difficulties and longer wait times, jeopardizing patient health," said Nicole Marcho, an optometrist at UCSF, in a UPTE-CWA 9119 news release. "Delaying eye care can lead to a higher risk of unnoticed or poorly managed eye conditions, potential eye damage, and loss of vision, particularly in cases of glaucoma. We are advocating for the resources to provide top-quality healthcare to our patients, but instead, we face unfair labor practices and bad-faith bargaining from UC, affecting our ability to hire, retain, and manage increasing wait times, which puts patient care at risk."
Protest times were held from 8 am to 1 pm at Jacobs Medical Center, and 8 am to 2 pm at all other locations. UPTE-CWA 9119 members were also encouraged by the union to join optometrists at picket lines before and after work and during breaks or lunch.1
According to the labor union, its bargaining team has been working with UC for over a year, but have been met with “failure to provide the information optometrists need to negotiate, refusing to bargain over individual optometrists’ placement on a step schedule, and making predictably unacceptable proposals.”1 This has left optometrists with an increase in patient loads, short-staffing, and below-market pay.2
Heidi Miller, OD, FAAO, FSLS, principal optometrist at UC Davis Eye Center, said nothing has changed after meeting with UC for years. “UC optometrists see the most complex and vulnerable patients in the region, with many local hospitals and private practices referring their patients to our specialty services for care. Yet, our compensation continues well below market rate. Kaiser optometrists are being paid 30% more than UC optometrists," she said. "Private practices are also providing more competitive compensation packages. Optometry needs to be recognized and compensated at the level of Kaiser optometrists, our UC pharmacists and UC nurse practitioners, all those with similar educational background and independent clinical decision making."
The strike has also received support from some of California’s elected officials. Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution supporting the strike during a February 6 board meeting this year. As of February 6, the resolution has 10 sponsors.3
Bargaining history and legal action
This unfair labor practice strike follows on the coat tails of an unfair practice charge that UPTE-CWA 9119 filed against UC with the state of California’s Public Employment Relations Board, which was received by the board on January 10, 2024. UPTE-CWA 9119 is accusing UC of violating the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA). Details in the unfair practice charge state that optometrists state that “the university’s bad faith approach to negotiations demonstrates its intent to prevent agreement rather than negotiate a deal.” Additionally, the labor union has also filed another charge over unfair practice committed against optometrists during bargaining. Ultimately, the UPTE-CWA 9119 is requesting the PERB to issue a complaint for UC’s bad-faith bargaining and to “order UC to cease and desist from its unlawful conduct,” among other items.4
Optometrists were added to UPTE-CWA 9119 in July of 2022 and began negotiations in January 2023, but has yet to receive its first agreement with UC. In an effort to accretion bargain, both UC and the labor union then met 11 times that year.
"In seeking out union support, optometrists hoped to see equitable changes that would improve recruitment and retain highly trained and experienced clinicians. Despite the many attempts, the UC has not bargained in good faith nor have they attempted to address the issues with retention and recruitment statewide," Miller said. "The UC has failed to provide requested information in a timely manner that is necessary to bargain, making unacceptable bargaining proposals, and refusing to negotiate with UPTE-CWA 9119 over step placement for individual optometrists. They have not been transparent with their compensation practices and ultimately, our patients are paying the price with delays to patient access and a loss of incredible doctors.”
UC presented its first bargaining proposal in March 2023, and presented 4 other proposals throughout the year. The unfair practice charge document states that UC would not bargain over first step on salary scale. Additionally, UC continuously proposed that paid time-off (PTO) be completely eliminated for all employees. Although the labor union and UC did agree to allow PTO to be grandfathered in, UC maintains that PTO for all employees should be converted to vacation and sick leave. UPTE-CWA 9119 is also accusing UC of withholding or delaying the delivery of contact information for optometrists and information explaining its wage proposals.4
“UC’s bad-faith tactics and refusal to provide us with information in a timely manner makes a mockery of true negotiations,” said Lauren Guajardo, an Optometrist 3 working at UC Davis in another news release from the labor union. “These delay tactics have a cost: optometrists are leaving, and our patients are suffering.”5
Both UC and University of California Health were reached out to for comment, but have not responded by the time of posting.