Some 55,000 nurses, medical staff and other workers in Los Angeles County are set to begin strike authorization votes this week as they negotiate cost-of-living increases, maintaining full health care coverage and an end to the outsourcing of jobs.
The employees, represented by the SEIU 721, will begin with in-person voting at LAC+ USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights on Wednesday, April 20, followed by online voting through mid-May. Their current contract expired in April.
If they vote to authorize a strike and the union’s negotiating team fails to reach an agreement with the county on a new three-year contract, the employees are ready to walk away, the union said.
County officials could not be reached Monday to address workers’ concerns.
‘A slap in the face’
SEIU 721 Bargaining Policy Chair Ileana Meza said negotiations with the county have stalled. Specific salary details were not released, but she described their latest offer as “a slap in the face” given the sacrifices made by frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workers range from nurses, medical staff and social service workers to wardens and other employees of the county’s parks and recreation department, county library system and those working as unsworn employees of the sheriff’s department.
“The issue of wage compensation is of extreme importance, but employees also want to continue to have full medical coverage and help with childcare and elder care costs,” said said SEIU spokeswoman Roxane Marquez. “And they don’t want outsourcing of county jobs anymore.”
When county jobs are contracted out to private companies to fill staffing gaps, those workers typically receive reduced health benefits and lower wages, she said.
“We have proven our heroism throughout the pandemic,” the SEIU website said. “But LA County management still wants to reward us by privatizing as many of our jobs as possible and paying us as little as possible.”
Marquez said past cost-of-living increases in the county have averaged about 2% per year.
This week’s vote to authorize a strike comes just two weeks after members of SEIU 721 and other unions halted traffic in downtown Los Angeles during a march and rally.” Fight for the Frontline” which highlighted the need to raise the cost of living to offset inflation. price increases on everything from groceries to gasoline.
Negotiation in bad faith
SEIU 721 president David Green said the union accused the county of bad faith bargaining and unfair labor practices.
“We have been negotiating in good faith for six months but we haven’t seen any progress from their side,” he said. “It has not been uncommon for the county CEO to come to these sessions and be totally disorganized.”
Green said some employees urgently need pay rises as inflation eats away at their incomes.
“We have employees who can’t afford gas to get to work,” he says.
US inflation hit 8.5% in March, its highest level in 40 years.
Gasoline price increases have been particularly hard on employees who have to commute to work. Monday, AAA data showed the LA County average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $5.80 per gallon, up $1.79 from the same period a year ago.
Green said workers are ready to act if a strike vote is allowed and no progress is made at the bargaining table.
“We are ready to strike,” he said. “We don’t want this to happen…but we have prepared our members for this could arrive.”