In recent years the best strategy for many county bargaining units has been to rollover the current contract rather than negotiate a new one, assuming the employer agrees to do so. While extending a contract generally means no new salary increases, it also means no takeaways, which in the current economy is often a fair compromise. Los Angeles County Bargaining Unit 324 (Physicians) and Bargaining Unit 325 (Dentists and Psychiatrists) each recently agreed to extend their current county contracts until 2012. This was an especially appealing option for BU 324 members, because their contract includes a 3% annual increase which did not expire. BU 325 doctors who have not reached the top of the pay scale will also see a salary step increase this year. Sacramento County doctors also agreed to a one year extension of their contract, though it included a change in the retirement formula for new hires. As in Los Angeles County BU 325, Sacramento doctors not already at the final salary step will get a pay increase.

Of the groups that are actively bargaining this year, several are at the initial stages of meeting with the employer. The Santa Cruz County Bargaining Team has had just one meeting with their employer, in which the County made no concrete proposals but indicated that it would be seeking concessions in many benefit areas, including pension and current employee healthcare. The UAPD team is putting together its package of proposals, planning to argue that the cuts Santa Cruz is suggesting would make it impossible to recruit and retain doctors. The Santa Barbara County doctors are also preparing to return to the bargaining table after rolling over their contract last year. That team recently prevented Santa Barbara County from violating an earlier agreement to add two new step increases; now that those increases have been implemented as promised, the UAPD team is ready to sit down and negotiate. Santa Clara County and Alameda County doctors are also in the initial stages of negotiations with their employers. The Alameda County Medical Center doctors, which bargain separately, have already submitted their proposals.

Negotiations in Solano County are already well underway, though doctors and the County an agreement seems far off. Most other units in that county have already made concessions, making the situation even more challenging for the doctors. UAPD made its proposals, which included modest pay increases, a month ago. Solano County responded by publishing the UAPD proposals on its website, alongside the list of concessions that other groups had made, in an attempt to sway public opinion against the doctors. The doctors are fighting hard to win a fair contract under these difficult conditions.

The award for worst employer, however, goes to Ventura County, where the UAPD bargaining team awaits a ruling from PERB that will hopefully force Ventura back to the table. In the meantime, the County fired some union leaders and suspended others in a clear act of retaliation; UAPD attorneys are working closely with these doctors’ own lawyers to fight these cases of anti-union discrimination.

Alongside UAPD’s well-established state and county divisions, the union’s clinic sector is steadily growing. Right now two new groups of clinic-employed providers, at Northeast Valley Health Corporation (NEVHC) and Momentum for Mental Health, are negotiating their first union contracts. UAPD and NEVHC have already reached agreement with on several pieces of language, including an article on non-discrimination. That group is looking at already-existing contracts, including the one just signed by Gardner Health Services, as models for its brand new agreement. The team has agreed to meet with management every Monday during June and will be setting up a schedule for regular membership meetings shortly. UAPD members at Momentum have been in negotiations since August on their first contract, and have had a series of ups and downs as they try to reach agreement with that employer. For instance, Momentum has struck a deal with Santa Clara County to accept higher acuity patients, but remains unwilling to share the revenue they receive from the county with the doctors who will treat those patients.

Last but not least, the doctors employed by the California State University system will be going to the table shortly, after agreeing to a rollover of their contract last year. The team is working on “sunshine proposals” which are general statements of what they hope to achieve.

Given the very real economic constraints most counties, clinics, and the State face, what can doctors and other providers expect to achieve at the table this year? UAPD Senior Labor Representative Patricia Hernandez recently settled contracts in San Mateo County and at Gardner Health Services that provide some interesting answers. San Mateo doctors made some small concessions, including a second pension tier for new employees, but actually saw an increase to their retiree health benefits and a new reimbursement for medical staff dues. Gardner providers were very satisfied with the terms of their agreement, which included several kinds of modest pay increases (lump sum payment, service bonus, new salary step, and more) and reimbursements that taken together equaled several percent of salary. In short, while small concessions were made, some gains were made too, leaving both sides satisfied.