They drive trucks and take care of the sick. They are the the rank and file, and when they were offered a 9 percent raise, they balked; it wasn’t the 15.5 percent they had asked for.
They are among the 42,000-plus L.A. County workers who walked out on strike this morning, compounding the dilemmas for residents of Los Angeles, where the transit workers have been on strike for 26 days.
The walkout by nearly half the work force of the nation’s most populous county — with nearly 10 million residents — forced service cutbacks at six hospitals and 42 clinics. University of Southern California Hospital’s trauma and emergency rooms were both closed this morning, forcing patients to go to private clinics for treatment.
Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday to keep about 5,000 nurses, coroners and other medical employees from joining the strike. But there were reports of nurses calling in sick this morning, said Bart Diener, the Assistant General Manager of the Service Employees International Union, Local 660. He also added that he was unsure how many nurses called in sick and said the information remained anecdotal.
“The emergency rooms remain open to walk-ins, people who present themselves at the hospitals,” said John Wallace, a spokesman for the county health department. “Doctors by and large are not participating in work actions.”
Paperwork Piling Up
The massive walkout was expected to hinder operations at a number of county departments, including jails, libraries, animal services and marriage licenses.
Stacks of mail piled up outside the registrar-recorder’s office in Norwalk a day after the postmark deadline for voters to register by mail for the Nov. 7 election.
The shortage of county workers may also pose another problem, says Los Angeles spokeswoman Judy Hammond. Because so many office workers have been affected by the strike, Hammond fears that Los Angeles county will not be prepared for voting.
“We’ve set up two shifts a day, seven days a week, and we’ve trained more people how to do data entry,” she said. “We have five days to complete all of the voter registration applications. But without the people here, we may not be able to hold the election [in Los Angeles County].”
“To me, it seems like we’re just sitting,” said Karen Samford, a clerk in the Los Angeles County social services department. “We’re not advancing, we’re not falling back.”
Advancement is what Samford and others like her are hoping for, especially since economic studies are showing that low earners are making the same amount of money, or less, than 10 years ago. Some 60 percent of the county’s unionized employees earn less than $32,000 a year, Tarnawsky said.
“It has really struck a chord with many working people that when times are good and the economy is doing well, that all should profit,” said Kent Wong a professor with the University of California Los Angeles Center for Labor Research.
The county’s three-year pact with the Service Employees International Union Local 660 ended Sept. 30, with the two sides are still far apart on pay. The union wants 15.5 percent raises over the next three years, while the county has offered a 9 percent increase.
The union has been staging rolling one-day walkouts since last week to demonstrate the potential effects of a general walkout. Contract talks have been sporadic.
“There’s been a little bit of movement on a couple of the tables,” union spokesman Mark Tarnawsky said of contracts involving 20 bargaining units. “Wages are a common issue but there are many side-issues unique to one unit.”
Transit Strike Lingers
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has made its “final offer” to the United Transportation Union, whose 4,300 bus and rail drivers remain on strike after 26 days.
The transit strike is one of the longest in the city’s history and affects some 450,000 daily riders. The agency also gave the union until Thursday morning to accept its offer.
“We believe this devastating strike must come to an end and we believe this can make it happen,” MTA Chief Executive Officer Julian Burke said. He wouldn’t discuss the details of the offer.
Union General Chairman James Williams declined immediate comment.
ABCNEWS’s Kevin Rooney, ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.