Thousands of County Workers Rally for Better Pay

By Elizabeth Marcellinio, City News Service

Roughly 2,000 union members assembled on Grand Avenue Tuesday to push for what they say is a fair shake from Los Angeles County, while the county’s chief executive said it was offering a 6 percent wage increase over three years.

Police officers along the march route said they expected 3,000-5,000 people to join the rally and march through downtown to the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.

A band played Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” from the back of a truck as labor leaders prompted the purple- shirted crowd in a call and response: “They say cut back,” “We say fight back.”

“We’ve brought thoughtful proposals that would benefit Angelenos of all stripes to the bargaining table,” said David Green, a children’s social worker and treasurer for Service Employees International Union Local 721. “The county has been ignoring the needs of L.A. residents by dragging its heels and failing to negotiate seriously.”

But a county spokesman said a proposal is already on the table offering a 2 percent wage increase this month, 2 percent next October and 2 percent in April 2015, a deal similar to one tentatively accepted by 21 of 28 non-public safety unions.

“What we have on the table is a conservative, financially viable salary increase,” said county spokesman David Sommers.

But a union spokesman flatly denied that the union had received that proposal.

“That deal has not been offered to us,” said SEIU spokesman Lowell Goodman.

Goodman declined to say whether a 6 percent increase would be accepted or precisely what level of wage would be acceptable.

“Then I’d be doing the work of the bargaining team,” Goodman said.

He did say that workers had been asked to contribute more to their healthcare premiums at a level that would, in many cases, exceed the amount of a 2 percent raise.

About half of the roughly 55,000 SEIU local union members earn $40,000 a year or less, Goodman said, while the county spokesman cited the average salary, which he calculated at $53,800 per year.

Union members are also pressing for non-economic terms, like a stronger rideshare program to reduce traffic congestion and a move to close property tax loopholes for large corporations.

“Bargaining is a chance for our members … to bargain around things that will improve their jobs and the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles County,” Goodman said. But the county has “said no to everything non-economic.”

Sommers said the SEIU employees — who include nurses, social workers, park employees and librarians — provide services he called “critical,” but that the county was prepared to provide residents the services they need despite the walkout.

“We have not seen any massive shortfall of staff,” Sommers said. “No department has raised a red flag yet.”

Union organizers and county officials agree that county employees deserve higher wages after nearly five years without any increase.

“All of our labor partners did this incredible thing over the last four years. We haven’t had to cut public services … because labor agreed to forego raises during the recession,” Sommers said.

But they seem to disagree about what is on offer. The parties are no longer at the bargaining table and any new proposal will require a vote by the Board of Supervisors at its next public meeting scheduled for Oct. 8, according to Goodman.

The union representative stressed that it is not a strike and employees will return to work Wednesday morning.

“The county is optimistic that we will have a resolution soon,” Sommers said.

Traffic was shut down on Grand Avenue between First and Fourth streets to accommodate the march.

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October 3, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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