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UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland employees stage 1-day strike

PIX Now 4-19: Wednesday morning headlines from the KPIX newsroom
PIX Now 4-19: Wednesday morning headlines from the KPIX newsroom 09:47

WALNUT CREEK -- Thousands of employees at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital took to the picket lines Wednesday for a 24-hour strike over ongoing contract negotiations that have come to an impasse.

The strike, which union leaders say is the largest in the hospital's history, was authorized by the roughly 1,200 members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) and involves three separate contracts that all expired last year.

It is taking place at the Oakland hospital as well as a clinic in Walnut Creek.

"We're on strike today because management walked away from us at the bargaining table," said Ruth Crowe, a licensed clinical medical social worker in the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Union officials say the hospital has refused to protect jobs and medical services in the East Bay and that since it became affiliated with UCSF Health it has closed the Children's Hospital Research Institute, moved the Sleep Lab and speech therapy services from Walnut Creek, moved most cardiac procedures to San Francisco and failed to address staffing shortages.

"Since the affiliation (with UCSF), which happened in 2014, we have seen a progressive consolidation and moving of services to San Francisco," Crowe said. "We have seen that there are no longer some services that are available here in this community."

Jackie Schalit, a mental health clinician in the Early Intervention Services Department, said since she started working at the hospital 21 years ago, her department's staff has been cut in half -- from 40 employees to just 20.

"This is a specialty mental health program that serves babies who've been scared, who've been traumatized," Schalit said.

"We believe that the children and the families of Oakland deserve high-quality care, and we love to work here," she said. "Since the affiliation (with UCSF) we've seen lots of changes happening and not for the better."

NUHW represents licensed vocational nurses, medical technicians, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, housekeepers, food service workers, office workers, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and nursing assistants.

Hospital officials dispute the union's claims and said they have increased the number of NUHW-represented employees in Oakland, offered a pay hike of at least 13 percent over three years and are spending $1.5 billion in modernization projects, including the construction of a new building to house juvenile mental health beds.

The hospital has also agreed "to the extent we are able under California state law" to a union request for job security enhancements if it fully merges with UCSF, among other things.

"We're disappointed the union rejected our final offer late Sunday night and is choosing to engage in a costly and disruptive strike," a statement from hospital officials says. "The union's claims about our commitment to Oakland and the East Bay are simply not true."

UCSF officials said they have brought in some replacement staff for the one-day strike, rescheduled some appointments and expect normal operations to resume Thursday morning. While all outpatient services are closed, the emergency department will stay open.

In addition to the NUHW workers, more than 800 nurses and other workers represented by the California Nurses Association and the Caregivers and Healthcare Employees Union are also on the picket lines after authorizing a one-day sympathy strike.

Employees represented by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39 are also participating.

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