Another union on verge of walkout

Service at Boynton could be slower if health-care workers strike Tuesday.

by Jessica Weaver

More than 170 University health-care workers could go on strike Tuesday if today’s negotiations with the University do not end in a contract agreement.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3260 represents dental assistants and hygienists, licensed practical nurses, and clinical and medical assistants at Boynton Health Service, the Dental School’s dental clinic, and the Community-University Health Care Center.

If they strike, there could be longer waits for appointments at Boynton Health Service and health-care providers would have to do preparatory work typically done by the union workers.

A strike by AFSCME Local 3260 would follow the strike by Locals 3800 and 3801 – the unions representing approximately 1,900 full-time clerical workers on four University campuses – which began Oct. 21.

David Golden, Boynton’s director of public health, said if there is a strike, Boynton will remain open, though business will be slower than usual.

About 42 licensed practicing nurses, outpatient clinical assistants and certified medical assistants at Boynton are union members and could walk out, Golden said.

To strike, unions must file an “intent to strike” at least 10 days before the strike begins. Local 3260 already filed the intent and can legally strike beginning Tuesday.

If AFSCME Local 3260 strikes, there will be longer waits for

appointments, particularly same-day appointments, Golden said. Scheduling appointments will be more difficult.

Health-care providers will also find themselves performing preparatory duties such as taking blood pressure and completing preparatory lab or X-ray work -which is currently done by licensed practicing nurses and certified medical assistants.

Patty Pals, certified medical assistant and AFSCME Local 3260 member, said Boynton already plans to allow 40 minutes for appointments this week, compared to the normal 20. This change was made because of the extra work providers would have to perform during a strike.

The dentistry school’s clinic will also be impacted in the event of a strike. Dental assistants, who set up all the equipment, sterilize tools and assist dental workers with patients, could walk out on their jobs. Dental hygienists and outpatient clinical assistants who answer phones and schedule appointments could also walk out.

Laura Waegener, outpatient clinical assistant in the dental clinic, said a strike would hurt a lot because of the high volume of patients the clinic sees on a daily basis. The dental clinic sees between 70 and 90 patients daily, she said.

Because health-care workers deal with patients directly, the absence of striking health-care workers might be more visible than that of the striking clerical workers, Waegener said.

She said appointments in the dental clinic will likely not be altered because they are made well in advance.

Because all the reception staff in the dental clinic could strike, the clinic hired temporary workers, outpatient clinic assistant Cindy Osiowhemu said. Outpatient clinic assistants schedule all appointments, check patients in, handle patients’ questions and answer phones.

Osiowhemu said she was not optimistic about negotiations. Some AFSCME Local 3260 employees object to the current contract’s health-care and wage cuts.

Osiowhemu said if the current contract is accepted, she will not receive a pay increase for the next eight years, when she is eligible to retire.

Paul Olin, associate dean for clinics in the School of Dentistry, said plans to hire temporary workers and rearrange duties with supervisors are in place to maintain the same quality of service during a strike.