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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Hospital Up Against Wall in Contract Controversy : Labor: Frustration builds as health workers picket. Administrator says it’s the union’s fault that talks stalled.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 20 Lancaster Community Hospital workers, frustrated over stalled contract talks, built a “Berlin Wall” of cardboard boxes and picketed outside the institution Thursday afternoon.

The demonstration was the second in three months by representatives of the Hospital & Service Employees International Union. The group has alleged that the 132-bed hospital is sending profits back to its German-owned parent corporation while refusing to increase wages for local employees.

“We’re building the ‘Berlin Wall’ to represent the oppression and repression we’re forced to work under here,” said Jay Corcoran, an operating room technician and member of the negotiating committee.

But hospital officials said the wall was merely a publicity stunt aimed at harassing and embarrassing the firm that owns the hospital. Steven Schmidt, chief executive officer at the hospital, said the contract talks are stalled because the union insists that the hospital require all eligible employees to join.

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“That’s the main obstacle in reaching an agreement,” Schmidt said.

He also insisted that the owner, Paracelsus Healthcare Corp., has poured much of its local profits into buying new equipment and renovating Lancaster Community Hospital.

The labor dispute dates back to 1989, when a majority of employees voted to be represented by the union. The hospital spent several years unsuccessfully challenging the validity of the election.

Contract talks began in March, 1993, and hospital officials said they have met with union negotiators 48 times.

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Displeased with the results of the talks, hospital workers picketed outside the hospital in May to call attention to unsettled contract issues.

Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the hospital, citing tactics the hospital allegedly used to discourage workers from participating in the May picketing.

In a recent memo, Schmidt said the board’s complaint was “totally without merit.” He said the hospital would defend itself during a Nov. 15 hearing before an administrative law judge.

At Thursday’s demonstration, hospital officials kept a low profile. But Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were summoned after the hospital complained that the “Berlin Wall” was a structure being built without permission on private property--the hospital’s front lawn.

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Union members then agreed to dismantle the cardboard wall.

Despite the relatively small turnout by hospital employees, who number more than 300, the picketers said discontent among workers is widespread.

“They’re frustrated that the hospital isn’t coming any closer to agreeing to sign a contract,” said Loretta Flood, a registered nurse at the hospital.


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