L.A. Workers End Walkout, for Now

An archbishop’s plea spurred the union representing 47,000 Los Angeles county employees to suspend its strike, at least temporarily, while negotiations continue.

Union officials late Wednesday night announced they were suspending the strike in response to an appeal from Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese.

“It is my firm belief that the issues raised by both parties will be resolved only through continuous, face-to-face negotiations rather than through a protracted strike,” Mahony said in a statement.

Employees who took part in the first day of the general strike were urged to return to work today, said Annelle Grajeda, general manager of Service Employees Union Local 660.

It was not known how long the suspension would last, union officials said. Negotiations were to resume this morning.

Union members would not hesitate to walk again, Grajeda warned, if progress toward a settlement isn’t made quickly.

Hospitals Hit Hard

The walkout started in earnest Wednesday morning after a week of “rolling” labor actions that had shuttered numerous county facilities, including hospital trauma centers and welfare offices for one day at a time.

The full strike quickly forced severe cutbacks in hospital trauma care and shut down registrar-recorder offices across the county just weeks before the Nov. 7 general election.

The labor action came to a dramatic end after 11 p.m. Wednesday when union officials responded to the appeal by Mahony, a longtime activist in California labor causes.

Among those striking were welfare workers, clerks who issue marriage licenses and record property transactions, coroner’s office workers, librarians, beach maintenance employees and sewer maintenance crews.

Six county hospitals and 42 health clinics that treat millions of people annually were among the hardest hit Wednesday during the strike.

Although county officials got a court order Tuesday barring nurses and other essential medical workers from striking, public hospitals with trauma units had to divert ambulances to private hospitals, said county Department of Health Services spokesman John Wallace.

Outside one county hospital, Daniel Lopez, who was paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot in the spine last week, had to wait to go to a rehabilitation center.

“I was supposed to be transferred on Monday, and now I’m stuck. I’ll probably be here until this strike finishes,” Lopez, 21, said after being wheeled outside for air.

Possible Election Impacts

Also particularly hard hit were county registrar-recorder offices — so much so the county had planned to go to court today to ask that those workers be ordered back, saying next month’s election could be jeopardized by the strike.

“If we continue to strike, the ballots will not get printed,” striker Becky Merriweather said as she picketed a Norwalk registrar-recorder’s office. “Ballots will not be mailed out and absentee voter applications will not get processed.”

County spokeswoman Judy Hammond confirmed that would be the case.

Of the 42,000 union employees eligible to strike Wednesday, 13,677 did not show up for the day shift, about 35 percent of all employees scheduled to work that shift, Hammond said. She said that number did not include about 3,000 people who had the day off, nor those scheduled to work night and overnight shifts.

Before the strike, the county’s last offer was a general 9 percent wage increase over three years. The union is seeking 15.5 percent.

Some 60 percent of the county’s unionized employees earn less than $32,000 a year, union officials said.

Transit Strike ‘Final Offer’

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has made its “final offer” to the United Transportation Union, whose 4,300 bus and rail drivers entered their 27th day of strike today.

The transit strike is one of the longest in the city’s history and affects some 450,000 daily riders.

The agency gave the union until Thursday to accept its offer. Union General Chairman James Williams declined comment.