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LA County Worker Walkout

LA County Worker Walkout

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Roughly 2,000 union members employed by Los Angeles  County assembled on Grand Avenue today to push for what they say is a fair  shake, while the county's chief executive said he was ready to offer 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 county Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said he was planning  to meet with labor leaders later today and would ultimately match a deal  already tentatively accepted by more than half of the 60-odd unions  representing county workers.

That offer is a 2 percent wage increase this month, 2 percent next  October and 2 percent in April 2015, according to the CEO.

``Los Angeles County is coming out of the worst recession in decades,''  Fujioka said. ``What we have right now is what I think is a very responsible,  very reasonable offer.''

A county spokesman said yesterday that the 6 percent increase was  already on the table, while a union spokesman flatly denied that the union had  received that proposal.

Fujioka said today that 4 percent had formally been offered to the  union, but the difference seemed to come down to bargaining tactics.

``You have to understand how bargaining occurs,'' the CEO said. ``We put  an offer on the table, labor will then counter that offer and they know that,  when all's said and done that 6 percent is available.''

SEIU spokesman Lowell 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.

Goodman 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, a point echoed by many members at the rally.

``Healthcare is going up 8 percent'' over three years, said union shop  steward Frank Pineda.

Fujioka said that the healthcare negotiations were completely separate  and no proposal at all had been made by the county.

``There's nothing on the table right now (for healthcare),'' Fujioka said.

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.

``The living wage has stayed stagnant, while the economy has not,''  Pineda said.

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.''

County spokesman David 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're closely monitoring the impact,'' Fujioka said, ``and we've seen  no significant service impact whatsoever.''

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.

Any new formal proposal will require a vote by the Board of Supervisors.  Its next public meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8.

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.

Grand Avenue was temporarily closed between First and Fourth streets to  accommodate the march, which is expected to end at 500 W. Temple St. about  noon

 

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