City Workers Set to Strike as Talks Stall in Torrance

Times Staff Writer

Unless negotiations resume, a Torrance municipal employees union with about 400 blue collar members will strike or begin a job action in about two weeks, a union leader said Thursday.

Lamont Frederick, president of Local 1117, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said workers voted Tuesday 114-55 to reject a contract offer and authorize a strike.

Negotiators for the two sides have met with a state mediator twice in the last two weeks, but have been unable to break an impasse, said Frederick.

City Manager LeRoy Jackson disagreed, saying negotiations are not at an impasse. He said the city is flexible on all contract issues and willing to continue negotiations.

"We are at a process of negotiations," he said. "We have made ourselves available for mediations."

No talks are scheduled to replace the union contract which expired July 1. Negotiations began in April and a state mediator was brought into the talks last week.

Tentative Accord on Wages

The union includes bus drivers, custodians, sanitation workers, mechanics, electricians and other blue-collar employees.

Though there is tentative agreement on a 5.1% annual increase in wages, the sides still have not resolved the union's demands for an additional paid holiday, payment for unused sick leave, withholding union dues and an increase in health insurance coverage, said Frederick, a civil service officer at the Torrance Police Department.

He said the timing of any job action would depend on the strike authorization being ratified by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. That process will take at least two weeks, then "some type of work action will follow," he said.

The local wants federation approval to ensure that other unions will honor the job action taken by the city employees union, he said.

Although the employees' union has voted to strike twice in the last two years, it has never come to that, he said, adding that the union does not want to strike, but will do so if "the city is unwilling to negotiate."

Kathy Keane, lead negotiator for the city, said that if a strike does take place, the city will provide minimum levels of service for operations affected by the strike, such as garbage collection and sewer service.

"No date has been set for a strike, but we will be prepared," she said. "But we hope they don't strike."

4 Unsatisfied Demands

Frederick said the four major unsatisfied demands are:

- A paid holiday on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. He said city officials will only offer the holiday in exchange for another holiday or a vacation day.

- Full compensation for accumulated sick leave. He said workers now can accumulate up to 800 hours of sick time. Workers with more than seven years on the job are paid half the value of accumulated sick time when they leave the job. Other employees who have worked fewer than seven years are not compensated for the sick time.

- Automatic withholding of union dues from all bargaining unit employees. Dues are currently collected by union leaders.

- City-paid increase in health insurance coverage. The city wants to use 1.1% of the proposed 5.1% pay increase to pay for additional health insurance. Union members want the additional insurance to come from $157,000 the city will save annually due to lower rates for the employees' retirement program.

Keane would not comment on the specific issues.

During the last two weeks the City Council has approved a variety of contracts with several other unions with an average annual pay increase of 5.1%. The workers under those contracts include firefighters, librarians, City Hall clerical and recreation workers.

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