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Red Cross Blood Workers Strike

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than 200 American Red Cross blood services workers went on strike in Los Angeles and Orange counties Monday, forcing the agency to rely on its blood reserves.

Red Cross officials stressed that the local blood supply is adequate for now, and said they had overstocked their local banks by shipping blood from the agency’s national inventory center in St. Louis and regional banks in the western United States.

Red Cross spokeswoman Trudy Sullivan said the local branch has enough blood to provide for the area’s 160 hospitals for 17 1/2 days--its usual stock plus about a week’s worth.

“We’re prepared to sit it out, basically,” Sullivan said. “We’re just real far apart.”

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The striking employees, members of Local 535 of the Service Employees International Union, have been working without a contract since March 31. Talks on a new three-year contract broke off after Red Cross management offered what it termed its “best, last and final offer” last month and the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

“I think they’re putting money before the donor,” said union spokeswoman Carolyn Cohen, a licensed nurse in the agency’s East San Gabriel Valley office.

Both sides were hunkering down for a lengthy standoff, refusing to agree even on the central points of contention in contract talks. Union officials said their main concern was safety, but Red Cross officials said the dispute was more about economics.

Union officials accused the Red Cross of trying to circumvent a 1993 consent decree that raised the agency’s safety standards, while management said the union was simply holding out for higher wages after receiving pay raises of 30% to 50% over the last seven years.

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Red Cross operations in Los Angeles and Orange counties were open, but officials said they did not have enough staff to accept blood donations in most cases. Three offices will continue “special donations"--those where a surgery patient wants to give his or her own blood for later use, for example, Sullivan said. And four sites will take apheresis donations, in which nurses take only blood platelets, she said.

“No patient is going to go without blood,” Sullivan said.

Some local hospital officials were less confident.

“If this goes on for several days, we could deplete the city’s supply,” said Louise Smith, manager of the division of transfusion medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where staff members were being asked to donate.

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At Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, administrators said they planned to supplement their Red Cross blood supply with donations from the hospital’s own blood unit, which is primarily used by patients and their family members wishing to give blood.


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