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CAMARILLO : Psychiatric Workers Balloted on Strike

The California Assn. of Psychiatric Technicians has mailed ballots to its 7,800 California workers asking for authority to call a strike if a contract is not negotiated. The union represents psychiatric technicians statewide, including 781 at Camarillo State Hospital. The union is asking workers to authorize a strike if necessary to fight Gov. Pete Wilson’s proposed 20% pay cuts, said spokesman Keith Hearn.

“We’re willing to negotiate,” Hearn said from union headquarters in Sacramento on Friday. “Nobody wants to strike, but it could happen.”

David Tirapelle, director of the state Department of Personnel Administration, said the Public Employment Relations Board will decide Monday whether negotiations, which broke off last month, should reopen or whether a mediator should be requested to help the two sides reach an agreement.

The action could cripple the state hospital, which houses 1,200 mentally ill and developmentally disabled people, said union President Gale Flores.

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“The employees are mad . . . we shouldn’t have to be Gov. Wilson’s steppingstone to the White House,” Flores said. “There’s a $1.3-billion reserve in the budget and the feeling is, ‘Why should we have to give up 20% of our salary?’ ”

Talks between the state and the union broke off late last month after union officials rejected the Wilson Administration proposal cutting wages and benefits by 20%, including 5% salary cuts and an increase in worker-paid health insurance costs, Hearn said.

Tirapelle said the union’s mailing of ballots is “their way of gaining the support of members” and does not mean a strike is imminent.

“At this point, we’re at an impasse,” Tirapelle said. “The 20% pay cut is the worst-case scenario.”

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Hearn said the psychiatric technicians, who earn an average of $2,300 a month, have the highest on-the-job injury rate in the state because they often work with “the violent offenders from the prison system.”


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