SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — University of California medical center workers in San Francisco and several other cities statewide began a two-day strike Tuesday.

The strike, organized by the union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, started early this morning at medical facilities at UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Irvine and UC San Diego, union officials said.

“The strike’s going amazing,” AFSCME Local 3299 spokesman Tedd Stenhouse said. “We have thousands of people out over the state, standing up for their patients.”

Stenhouse said the medical centers are “chronically understaffed” while UC officials spend more money on new buildings and executive pay.

“This is about patient care, about safe staffing and UC getting its priorities straight,” he said. “We are not trying to hurt UC, we’re trying to save it.”

Employees represented by AFSCME include respiratory therapists, nursing aides, radiologists, MRI technologists and various technicians, according to the union.

University officials say the strike has already caused the postponement of dozens of important surgeries, including five at UC San Francisco for children with complex heart conditions and 12 pediatric chemotherapy infusions.

“We believe it’s completely inappropriate to put patients in the middle of a labor dispute and jeopardize essential services to them as a negotiating tactic,” Dwaine Duckett, UC’s vice president for systemwide human resources, said in a statement.

Stenhouse countered, “UC, through its reckless cost-cutting, is endangering patients every day.”

He noted that the university sought an injunction that would have prevented more than 13,000 union workers from participating in the strike, but a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled on Monday that a more limited total of about 100 patient care technical employees are required to work.

“The judge said, ‘UC, you are wrong, these guys have done right by their patients,’” Stenhouse said.

Duckett said in the statement that the injunction was “more limited than what we were seeking” but said “it’s very simple: if they strike, services to patients suffer.”

UC officials say they have been in negotiations with the union since June 2012 over a new labor contract, and that pension reform is the main sticking point between the two sides. The university claims it has a $24 billion unfunded pension plan liability.

Eight unions have agreed to UC’s pension reforms, which also apply to faculty and non-union staff hired on or after July 1, university officials said.

Stenhouse said AFSCME made its latest proposal to UC weeks ago and was still waiting for a response.

The union was planning a rally at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the UCSF Parnassus campus at 505 Parnassus Ave. and will continue picketing there tonight, then again from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesday.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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