Striking Student Health

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

BERKELEY—Physicians from UCSF Student Health and 10 other University of California student health centers employed a rare tactic seen among the physician workforce as they went on strike Tuesday, Jan. 27 with the support of the Union of American Physicians. The union noted that the strike marked the first time in nearly 25 years that licensed medical doctors had gone on strike in the United States.

Supporters chanted, “Prioritize students’ health first!” as they congregated at the UC Berkeley’s Tang health services center to protest as talks for their first contract have stalled. Other rallies occurred at UC Davis, UCLA and UC San Diego.

“We wanted basic information about budget constraints and we got nothing,” said striking UC Santa Cruz physician Linda Kirby at the UC Berkeley picket lines.

Physicians at 10 University of California campuses unionized in November 2013 and have been in talks with campus administrators over their first union contract. Talks stalled after UC administration have shown reluctance on detailing discretionary budgets of university chancellors as well as the breakdown of how student fees are appropriated. Although striking physicians noted that contract negotiations provided the impetus for the current work stoppage, the union originally formed in order to advocate for improved student health care services.

“All of the physicians that work with us and this union are all incredibly dedicated to the best quality of student health center services,” said Lynne Alper, a UC Berkeley physician and bargaining team member.

Currently, the union has more than 150 physicians at all 10 UC campuses that have supported the measure to go on strike. These health care professionals provide services for students such as flu shots, psychiatric counseling and urgent care services. This differs from the larger cohort of physicians at the various UC medical center campuses, which are represented by a distinct and separate union and were not involved in the negotiations. Those larger health care centers such as UCSF’s Medical Center operated normally.  

Left behind at the vacated student health centers were administrators, many of them medical doctors as well, who said they would take charge of any student requiring emergency or urgent care treatments. However, some non-urgent appointments had to be moved to other days as a result of the physician walk out. Striking physicians were due to return to their posts the following day, though union officials noted that further work stoppages may be necessary and possible in the near future.