Care clash

UC hospital workers allege unsafe working conditions

A flyer addressing UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret -- the text reads "Layoffs Hurt Patient Care and Families"

The first week in April was a rough time for Connie Salguero. The Filipina nursing assistant, who says she would've been eligible to retire in two years, reported to her shift at the University of California San Francisco medical center at Mt. Zion on April 1 — and was told she was laid off. Two days after that, she was forced out of her home through an eviction, but fortuitously met an elderly Filipina woman who said Salguero could stay with her until she gets back on her feet.

"This manager said to me, Connie, come here, let's talk," and delivered the bad news, Salgeuro recounted, getting a little misty-eyed. Two other Filipina hospital assistants in her unit met with the same fate that day, she said.

"I'm trying to find a job," Salguero said. "It's very hard. But I will survive." She projected a sense of resolve despite the whirlwind of sudden stress, which seemed fitting for someone whose job entailed feeding, bathing, and assisting up to ten bedridden patients at a time, many of them suffering from cancer.

Salguero said management told her the layoffs were necessary because of the most recent wave of federal budget cuts. But Cristal Java, lead organizer for UC patient care technical workers' union, AFSCME 3299, interjected during an interview with the Bay Guardian to refute that explanation, calling it "total crap. They don't want to tell workers the truth," Java said, "which is that the hospitals are extremely profitable."


Salguero is one of about 25 UCSF certified nursing assistants whose recent layoffs prompted AFSCME to register a formal complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board, an agency that mediates labor disputes. The CNA layoffs hit in March and early April as part of a raft of cutbacks that eliminated a total of 300 full-time equivalent positions. Some of those positions were unfilled while other staffers were reassigned elsewhere or had their hours cut; a total of 75 individuals were laid off.

The cuts prompted union representatives to organize a protest at UCSF's Parnassus Campus April 4, with San Francisco Sup. John Avalos and California Sen. Leland Yee turning out in support of the workers. Salguero was there too, waving a sign, and she wound up telling her story for an international broadcast by a Filipino news station. Things took a dramatic turn when police arrived on the scene, and Union President Kathryn Lybarger and some others were escorted off the premises in handcuffs.

Asked to explain the rationale behind the layoffs, UCSF spokesperson Karin Rush-Monroe responded, "We evaluated the impact of the Affordable Care Act, expected reductions in Medicare, MediCal and private insurance reimbursements," as well as employee benefits and rising costs in drugs and medical supplies, and ultimately decided on a 4 percent labor budget cut. "We must make a 'course correction' if we are to maintain our resources to care for our patients," Rush-Monroe said.

But the staffing cuts hit just weeks after AFSCME published a blistering report, titled "A Question of Priorities," charging that UC has prioritized profit margins at its medical centers since 2009 while needlessly eliminating frontline staff positions, all to the detriment of patient care.

"It feels very much like they're chasing down the Wall Street model of business," Randall Johnson, an MRI technologist at UCSF Parnassus Campus who is active with Local 3299, told the Guardian. "We're pressed to move faster and faster and faster. It's more about profit than it is about patient care."

Steve Montiel, spokesperson for UC Office of the President, told us that UCSF is "consistently ranked as one of the top hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report," and pointed out that the AFSCME report coincided with an ongoing contract dispute concerning patient care technical workers, which may lead to a strike authorization in the next few weeks.