Yesterday, UAPD-represented doctors working for Alameda Health Services (AHS) won a significant legal victory in our year-long campaign against contracting out. While a judge had previously denied UAPD’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to immediately halt the transfer of psychiatrist jobs to outside contractor Traditions Behavioral Health (TBH), yesterday Judge Michael Markman issued a motion to compel AHS to participate in binding arbitration with UAPD over the issue. The text of the Judge’s ruling can be read here.
The arbitrator will determine if by hiring high-cost contractors, AHS violated a law that went into effect with the passage of AB 1008 in 2013. Co-sponsored by UAPD and AHS, AB 1008 strictly limited the ability of AHS to contract out the work of its union doctors. It stated:
Before January 1, 2024, the hospital authority shall not enter into a contract with any private person or entity to replace services being provided by physicians and surgeons who are employed by the hospital authority and in a recognized collective bargaining unit as of March 31, 2013, with services provided by a private person or entity without clear and convincing evidence that the needed medical care can only be delivered cost-effectively by a private contractor. Prior to entering into a contract for any of those services, the authority shall negotiate with the representative of the recognized collective bargaining unit of its physician and surgeon employees over the decision to privatize and, if unable to resolve any dispute through negotiations, shall submit the matter to final binding arbitration.
In writing the law, all parties were clear that the March 31, 2013 date was intended to exclude only the work done by the non-union San Leandro Hospital doctors who were being incorporated into AHS at that time. The legislators, UAPD, and AHS all understood that the services historically provided by UAPD doctors within Alameda Health System were protected from contracting out until 2024, regardless of when an individual UAPD doctor was hired. However, in 2016 AHS tried to exploit the ambiguity around the 2013 date in the law. They gave 40 bargaining unit positions from John George Psychiatric Emergency Services to Traditions Behavioral Health, refusing to negotiate with UAPD or bring the decision to arbitration. In response, UAPD began battling AHS in the workplace and the courts. The goal was to uphold AB 1008 and defend bargaining unit jobs.
First UAPD met with AHS to present a comprehensive plan for filling psychiatrist vacancies in the unit, which AHS declined to implement. Instead, AHS engaged in surface bargaining, refusing to make a good faith attempt to hire permanent employees rather than contractors. UAPD suspected AHS was trying to engineer a staffing crisis to use as an excuse to subcontract out work to TBH. An attempt to elicit help from the County Board of Supervisors was also unsuccessful.
So UAPD brought its case to the courts. UAPD started litigation to compel AHS to arbitrate over its decision to contract out employed hours represented by UAPD. UAPD was confident that an arbitrator would determine that the TBH contract was not “cost effective” and thus prohibited by AB 1008. The motion issued today means that this arbitration will in fact take place.
The last part of the strategy is to convince legislators to amend AB 1008 to remove any possible ambiguity in the law. That would offer better protection for AHS doctors moving forward, and increase the likelihood of a positive decision in our upcoming arbitration. One of the bill’s original authors, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, has sponsored AB 1538, which contains the amendment. The bill contains an “urgency clause” so that the amendment is effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature, rather than on January 1, 2018. The bill awaits a vote before the full Senate after August 21st.
Defending the AHS doctors has been both time-consuming and expensive, but winning this battle is one of the highest priorities for UAPD. We thank UAPD Senior Representative Patricia Hernandez, Political Director Doug Chiappetta, Executive Director Zegory Williams, President Stuart A. Bussey, Board Member Milton Lorig, and many UAPD represented psychiatrists who have consistently worked together to achieve this victory. We will continue to provide updates on AB 1538 and the arbitration process.