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Friday, October 6, 2000

Walkouts leave county health care feeling ill

By Joseph Giordono Staff Writer

With no contract talks on the fourth day of rolling strikes by Los Angeles County employees, union officials said Thursday they plan to file an unfair labor practices complaint today against county officials.

The latest round of walkouts were aimed at the county health care system. According to county officials, 813 of 1,248 health care workers -- including 93 percent of the nurses -- skipped the day shift at Martin Luther King-Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Walkouts by Service Employees International Union, Local 660, personnel and supporting unions also forced closure of several Southeast Cluster Health Centers.

Union leaders said they will call a general strike Wednesday if the impasse is not resolved and plan to file a complaint today with the county's Employee Relations Commission.

"The county continues to say they will not negotiate unless we stop striking and that is against the law," said Mark Tarnawsky of the SEIU.

County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen rejected the notion that the county has engaged in unfair bargaining, saying the county has made a fair offer.

The county has proposed a 9 percent pay hike over three years. Union members want a 15.5 percent raise.

"There is no change in the status of negotiations," Janssen said. "They have our salary offer, and we are willing to negotiate on some other issues."

Talks broke off last Friday, a day before the union's three-year contract expired. On Thursday, more than 80 percent of the nurses and more than 50 percent of all employees did not show up for the night shift at King-Drew Medical Center.

"The walkout is definitely impacting our ability to provide services to our patients," said John Wallace, county Department of Health Services spokesman. "Those workers who are here are exhausted. They have been working double shifts, and will continue to have to do so until this is over."

The walkout forced the closure of the outpatient clinics and halted acceptance of new trauma patients. Nursing supervisors, doctors and medical residents worked 16-hour shifts to fill in, Wallace said.

The rolling strikes are expected to continue today at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Tuesday at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center and County-USC Medical Center.