YERMO - A Silver Valley school employee says he is more than three weeks into a hunger strike in protest of the district's handling of his worker's compensation claim.

Jose Beramedi, a custodian with the Silver Valley Unified School District, parked outside the Yermo offices of the district for several hours each day since Jan. 8, displaying signs in a one-man protest to pressure the district into resolving his injury claim and provide more after-school activities for students. He said that the school district is delaying payment for medical treatment in retaliation to the complaints he's filed and because he is of Peruvian descent.

District officials, calling the case a personnel issue, declined to comment about Beramedi's actions but said that the organization follows it's workers compensation and anti-discrimination policies.

Beramedi said he hasn't worked since Dec. 18 because he needs to be treated for carpal tunnel syndrome, which he claims resulted from a 2003 work-related injury. He has consumed only milk, Gatorade and other liquids since a Jan. 8 school board meeting when district officials ignored his requests to pay his medical bills.

"They forced me to return to work, and the treatment isn't finished yet," he said.

He said he was injured in September 2003 while carrying a large table at Lewis Elementary School. He developed tendonitis and subsequently carpal tunnel syndrome and is unable to return to work until he receives medical treatment, he claims. Insurance and school personnel records confirm that Beramedi is being treated for injuries. The records also show that Beramedi has been disciplined multiple times for talking on the telephone while at work, insubordination and taking breaks at unscheduled times. He claims the delay and disciplinary actions are retaliation for his protests about layoffs at the district in 2002 when he was on the negotiations team of the school's California School Employees Association.

"They started writing me up for no reason," he said. "They want to fire me."

Aaron Houghton, assistant superintendent for administrative services at the district, confirmed that Beramedi is still an employee of the district but said he could not comment about the case. He said that the district responds to complaints and concerns made by employees or parents on a regular basis.

Jodi Gray, the president of the Southern California Risk Management company, which assists with the district's workers compensation claims, said she wasn't sure why Beramedi was on a hunger strike. Since 1997, Beramedi has filed five claims for compensation resulting from injuries occurred while working, some of which were determined not to have been work-related, she said.

Gray said she wasn't sure about the reason for the delay or if there was a delay at all in the processing of Beramedi's claim but said her company and the district has informed him of his legal rights.

"He is currently receiving the benefits he's entitled to," she said.

Although Beramedi's hunger strike has received some support from school employees and passers-by, not everyone at the school approves of his actions.

"We are not in support of what he's doing," said Linda Johnson, president of the Silver Valley chapter of the CSEA union, which represents school support staff. "Basically, he's out there as a private citizen."

She said several union members have raised concerns about Beramedi's actions and hope the matter is resolved soon. Beramedi said that he's not sure how long he will continue with his hunger strike but wants to bring attention to his cause.

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