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Labor Plans Campaign to Bring Back Cal-OSHA

September 08, 1987|HENRY WEINSTEIN and MARK LANDSBAUM | Times Staff Writers

Organized labor and its allies will start a ballot-initiative campaign this fall to restore the state's occupational safety and health program.

The announcement was made by the head of the state labor federation on Monday at the 41st annual Labor Day breakfast of the Catholic Labor Institute in Los Angeles.

John F. Henning, executive secretary of the California Federation of Labor, said petitions will begin circulating the first week in December, leaving five months to collect enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot in November.

Henning and several other speakers at the breakfast blasted Gov. George Deukmejian for eliminating $8 million from the state budget that would have been needed to continue Cal-OSHA, the state's worker health and safety program.

"It's incredible that a governor who prides himself on prudence would do this to save $8 million out of a $41-billion budget," Henning said.

Trouble in Orange County

In Orange County, Labor Day arrived amid stalled contract talks involving several public employee unions and two of the county's larger employers, Orange County and Santa Ana.

Labor-management relations have been particularly tense among the 12,000 county employees, including 1,100 sheriff's deputies who have staged slow-downs to underscore their frustration and are talking seriously about a walkout.

"From what I can tell, we don't see any breakthrough" in negotiations, said Mary Yunt, central council executive secretary-treasurer. "They have met several times. Some (public employee unions) have extended their contracts through the end of the month."

Hundreds of union members, their families and friends gathered Monday afternoon at a picnic at Irvine's Heritage Park to celebrate not only Labor Day, but the 30th anniversary of the charter application of the Orange County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

"The purpose of the picnic," Yunt said, "is for working men and women to get together and meet each other. That's the purpose of solidarity. When you are asking for help, it's a little different when they know each other."

Generally, however, local unions have gradually improved their lot in recent years, Yunt said.

County's 'Blessings'

"We definitely have blessings in Orange County," she said, citing increases in union membership in recent years.

Orange County union membership amounted to about 12% of the work force in 1980, increasing to about 15% in recent years and is continuing to grow, she said.

"That's a good percentage for this county, given the structure, particularly the governmental structure," Yunt added.

Union members living in Orange County numbered about 150,000 in 1984, the last year for which figures are available, Yunt said. However, 2,500 new union members have been organized in the past year by the Service Employees' International Union, as well as other smaller organizing efforts in the private sector.

Picnic organizers were unsuccessful in finding the seven original unionists who signed the council's application for a charter on Sept. 10, 1957, Yunt said. Nevertheless, representatives of the 15 unions listed on the application were on hand to receive certificates, commemorating the anniversary.

Yunt said although national figures show more Americans holding jobs than ever, "From what I am seeing, they are low-paying jobs. We're also seeing a lot of part-time work, even in the unions."

In many cases, she said, there are "two part-time people working . . . and neither one earning a living wage."

The council's Labor Day activities began Monday with about 60 people attending a Mass and about 100 gathering for a breakfast at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim. The day concluded with hundreds romping and relaxing amid balloons, live music and volleyball under a warm, clear sky in Irvine.

At Los Angeles' Labor Day breakfast, several speakers, including Archbishop Roger Mahony, urged the nearly 1,000 people at the Hyatt Regency Hotel to continue their support for an increase in the minimum wage, which has been $3.35 an hour since 1981.

The state's Industrial Welfare Commission is scheduled to discuss a possible increase at a meeting Friday in San Francisco and at a public meeting Oct. 24 in Los Angeles.

Mahony said the minimum wage must be raised to a point where it would provide "a good standard of living that enables all members of a family to grow and prosper."

He said that henceforth no job in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will have a wage of less than $5 an hour, an announcement that brought considerable applause from the audience.

Deukmejian first disclosed that he planned to eliminate Cal-OSHA in January, as a cost-saving measure. He asserted that the state's workers would be just as safe under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration as they were under the state program.

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