LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Health Care Workers Prepare To Strike
Workers at Los Angeles County health facilities are set to strike tomorrow if an agreement that contains a "fair wage increase" is not reached, the Los Angeles Times reports. Several walkouts were planned for today at area hospitals, including County-USC Medical Center. Today's planned action by health workers is part of a potential countywide strike by "47,000 county workers in every county department." Mark Tarnawsky, a spokesperson for Services Employees International Union Local 660, which represents the 47,000 county workers and 19,000 of 23,000 county health workers, said, "If we don't have a deal by Wednesday, these people will stay out. We need to sit down and negotiate to avoid a countywide strike" (O'Connor/Hong, Los Angeles Times, 10/9). The county has proposed a 9% increase over three years to all its employees, a deal that several other county unions have accepted. Local 660, however, has demanded a 15.5% raise over three years. Local 660's contract ended Sept. 30, one day after negotiations with the county broke off. Beginning last week, the union implemented "a series of single-day strikes," which have affected hospitals, child-support and welfare offices (Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, 10/10). The Employee Relations Commission today will hear an unfair labor practices complaint filed by the county, which alleges that the union's strike is "illegal and that talks were in progress when workers left the table 10 days ago." County spokesperson Judy Hammond said that before the union strikes, "an impasse must be declared and a mediator brought in to resolve the issues." The County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet today to discuss the matter (O'Connor/Hong, Los Angeles Times, 10/9).
An Emergency Safety Net
In the event of a general strike, a group of private physicians has "offered to provide free care for the low-income patients who would be most affected." Dr. James Mays, a family physician who runs two private clinics in Los Angeles, said, "The potential is for controllable diseases to become emergency diseases. The doctors of the community are offering to step in and become a safety net." Mays is one of nearly 60 physicians "affiliated with five private clinics [who] have offered their services." Jerry Johnson of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center said his facility would not turn away indigent patients, even though it may incur financial losses. John Wallace, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Health Department, praised the efforts of the physicians, saying, "We're always really pleased when the private sector pitches in because our primary concern is patient health. I don't know how much time there is to coordinate efforts, but the department would want to cooperate with anyone willing to provide additional care" (Rivera, Los Angeles Times, 10/10).
'Get Back To The Table'
Addressing the potential strike, a Los Angeles Times editorial criticizes the lack of "official action" between the two sides, asking, "[W]hy are the five county supervisors and their negotiators willing to allow the general strike to approach without getting back to the table?" The editorial states that the county "may and should" request a temporary restraining order against walkouts by workers whose absence would "imminently jeopardiz[e]" public health. However, the editorial asserts that the county's refusal to budge on certain points is "oddly rigid ... in the face of such serious consequences." The editorial also criticizes the union for not agreeing to delay the strike "if serious negotiations resumed and continued." The editorial concludes, "The immediate need ... is to restart negotiations. Too much is at stake, from health care for the poor and uninsured to services for neglected and abused children and preparation for next month's general election, for either side to balk or play games" (Los Angeles Times, 10/10).