LA County Workers Ready to Strike Over Higher Wages, Inflation

Workers demand higher salary at a rally on Thursday as the clock runs out on their contracts

A rally in downtown Los Angeles Thursday drew over 1,000 L.A. County public service workers demanding pay increases to keep up with soaring inflation. The group, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 721, included nurses, librarians, custodial services, public safety, homeless outreach and clerks, Courthouse News Service reports.

The mood was one of urgency as SEIU 721’s contracts were set to run out on midnight on Friday. According to union officials, they’ve only been extended a two percent wage increase for the next three years.

SEIU 721 represents 96,000 public employees in Southern California, of which roughly 55,000 work for the county.

The rate of inflation for the 12-month period ending in February was 7.9 percent before seasonal adjustment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—the highest rate of inflation since 1981.

Another beef workers have with their employer is the privatization and outsourcing of vital county jobs to for-profit corporations, which bleeds away L.A. County-based union jobs. During the pandemic, for example, L.A. County handled staffing shortages by “contracting with registered nurses employed by private companies” rather than hiring more union workers, according to CNS. The county is considering contracting out the 211 hotline as well.

Union leaders exhorted the crowd that the county had to pay up, and reiterated that workers were ready to strike.

“I’m not sure what is left,” county eligibility worker Junue Millan told the Los Angeles Times. “They know they need to pay more and respect us and what we do. If we have to strike, we will.”

Negotiations are ongoing, said a spokesman for the county’s chief executive.

“LA County and Service Employees International Union Local 721 are currently engaged in good faith negotiations and both sides are exchanging proposals,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We are hopeful that we will reach agreement soon on a fair contract that is fiscally responsible and also recognizes the important contributions of our valued employees.”

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