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UCLA workers authorize strike, but no service disruptions are expected

UCLA workers authorize strike, but no service disruptions are expected
UCLA skilled-trades workers have voted to strike Nov. 16, but university officials say the campus and medical facilities will remain open and operational that day. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Members of a union representing nearly 600 skilled-trades workers at UCLA have voted to strike this month, but university officials say no service disruptions are anticipated.

Officials with Teamsters Local 2010, which represents electricians, plumbers, carpenters, service engineers, elevator mechanics and others at UCLA and UC San Diego, are advising the public to avoid the Westwood campus on Nov. 16 and reschedule nonessential medical appointments that day.

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About 200 skilled-trades workers at UC San Diego plan to strike the next day.

"The strike will have a big impact on operations, because these are workers who make all of the systems function safely," Jason Rabinowitz, Local 2010 secretary-treasurer, said Friday. "We've urged the university to take appropriate steps to make sure patient and student safety is protected."

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UCLA spokeswoman Kathryn Kranhold said the campus and medical center would remain open that day. In a statement, she said UCLA Health had developed a contingency plan to ensure that all hospitals and patient-care facilities remain "fully operational" during normal business hours.

"UCLA is disappointed by this [strike] decision and believes this matter is best resolved at the bargaining table," she said.

The union said that 96% of employees voted to strike after working without a contract for the past four years. Rabinowitz accused UCLA of dragging out negotiations to avoid having to increase wages during that time.

That, he said, is where the biggest disagreement between the two sides lies. The union wants a retroactive payment of 20.39% of wages and annual pay increases of 17.39%, 5% and 4%.

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UCLA is offering 12.5% and 3% annually for four years after that, along with a $1,000 signing bonus. The UCLA offer "takes into account the loss of wages during the period without a contract but does not apply retroactively," Kranhold said.

According to Kranhold, the UCLA offer would make its skilled-trades workers the most highly paid in their category among peer institutions. Rabinowitz, however, said the workers — who annually earn between $50,000 and $75,000 — are paid as much as $10 an hour below prevailing wage.

Kranhold also said the pace of contract negotiations has been affected by union disruptions. Another union represented the workers but unexpectedly pulled out last year, and the Teamsters were not prepared to begin negotiations until August.

Sam Huffman, 60, a facilities mechanic, said he was excited to join UCLA six years ago, but worker morale plummeted as negotiations dragged on. The Chatsworth resident said the lack of a wage increase has squeezed his family, especially because of the $100,000 in student loans taken out in the last few years for his children.

"I can't save any money," he said. "You just have to hunker down."

Kranhold said UCLA "respects the contributions of its workers" and hoped for a settlement soon.

Both sides are scheduled to meet with a neutral mediator on Nov. 9.

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