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SEIU members asked to authorize strike

City News Service | 10/23/2013, 1:08 p.m.
Members of a union that represents about 55,000 county workers will begin voting today on a strike authorization.
SEUI Local 721 rally held October 1, 2013, in Downtown Los Angeles. SEIU Local 721

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Members of a union that represents about 55,000 county workers will begin voting today on a strike authorization.

The Service Employees International Union Local 721 — which organized a walkout of 2,000 workers or more on Oct. 1 to push for a better contract — has asked members to give the bargaining committee the authority to escalate action “up to and including a strike.”

A Los Angeles County spokesman told the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the call for a strike authorization, that the move was “premature” as the county was still negotiating in good faith.

However, in the weeks since the walkout, union negotiators said there has been little movement toward a resolution.

County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka said earlier that while a 4 percent increase had been offered to SEIU workers, negotiators knew they could ultimately get the same deal offered to the county’s other labor partners. That is a 2 percent wage increase this month, 2 percent next October and 2 percent in April 2015.

SEIU spokesman Lowell Goodman said Tuesday that such an offer had still not made it to the bargaining table.

Smaller caseloads for county social workers are also among the other contract demands that the union says are critical.

“Our workers carry double and triple the numbers of cases” recommended by a 1999 best practices study and the department needs to hire 1,400 more workers, according to county social worker David Green.

Based on feedback from union members, negotiators are also asking for a stronger rideshare program to reduce traffic congestion and some policy changes that only indirectly affect workers, like 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 on the day of the walkout.

SEIU employees include nurses, social workers, park employees and librarians.

County officials agree that county employees deserve higher wages after nearly five years without any increase. They could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday, so it was not clear where they stand on non-economic issues or how those elements might even be enforced as part of a union contract.

However, those issues could still lead to a strike.

“If it turns out that the majority of our folks are in favor of the strike, then we’re prepared to do that,” Green said. “It’s really important to us that we’re getting the tools and the resources to effectively do our jobs,” Green said.

The vote on whether to authorize a strike will end next Wednesday.