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Strike Disrupts Care of Patients

Times Staff Writer

Pharmacists at Los Angeles County-run medical facilities staged a strike Monday, causing delays for patients needing medicine, but the job action was cut short after a judge issued a restraining order. Managers stepped in alongside temporarily hired pharmacists to fill prescriptions as regular workers stayed home on what had been planned as the first of a two-day strike.

Outpatients at the hospitals were sent to Rite Aid stores, which the county agreed to reimburse.

The Guild for Professional Pharmacists, which is in stalled negotiations over its contract, represents about 225 county pharmacists. Union officials said that about 160 members did not report to work.

At Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, only two of the facility’s 15 scheduled pharmacists were on duty, causing doctors to cancel appointments for some oncology patients, officials with the county Department of Health Services said.

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“I, myself, am filling prescriptions,” said Amy Gutierrez, the county’s interim pharmacy director, as she worked at Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center. “It’s all hands on board trying to get through this work action.”

The stoppage was the second this year by the union, which represents pharmacists working in county hospitals, jails and juvenile hall.

The pharmacists have been without a contract for more than a year and are unhappy with the current offer from county negotiators, said guild President Ralph Vogel.

Most county pharmacists are paid up to $40.76 an hour, compared with $51.39 paid by Kaiser Permanente, whose Southern California employees are also represented by the guild, Vogel said.

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The county has offered raises of 2.5% in January 2005 and 2006, he said.

“We’re a good difference behind,” Vogel said. “We don’t have any choice but to take strike action.”

In response to a filing from county lawyers, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe on Monday ordered employees at in-patient hospital pharmacies and custodial facilities to return to work immediately. Pharmacists who fill prescriptions for outpatients are not affected by the order.

County health officials said they planned to call union members at home beginning Monday evening to notify them of the order.

Union officials have planned a weeklong strike between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Lawyers for the union and the county are scheduled to appear in court Dec. 20 to decide if pharmacists can go ahead with the stoppage.


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