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County workers march through downtown L.A. to press for higher wages

John A. Perez

Hours after their contract expired, thousands of Los Angeles County workers took to the streets of downtown Tuesday morning rallying for higher wages and blasting county leaders for failing to recognize the sacrifices they made during the recession.

Linda Dent, vice president of a union that represents 55,000 county employees, said that the workers forwent raises during the recession to help the county stay afloat.

“We sacrificed for the last four years for L.A. County,” Dent told the crowd of SEIU Local 721 members, gathered in front of the Hall of Administration and spilling into Grand Park. “We did everything we could and they turn around and do this to us? ... We have been neglected, rejected and disrespected by L.A. County.”

SEIU officials say that the last offer the county has made would provide 4% in raises over two years, but increased medical costs mean that low-wage workers’ pay will effectively be cut. County officials say they have offered a 6% raise, similar to that signed onto by several other labor unions that represent county employees. Both sides will return to the negotiating table Thursday.

The marching workers were joined by a handful of elected officials, including Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and City Councilmen Curren Price and Paul Koretz. They group began with a rally at California Plaza, where a loudspeaker blasted Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

"Are you scared?” regional SEIU director Michael Green shouted from the flatbed of a pickup truck.

“Hell no!” replied the crowd, which waved signs reading “Fair Pay for Los Angeles” and “Fair Share from Corporations.”

After weaving around the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the crowd marched to the Hall of Administration, with some walking through the building, banging drums and chanting. During the rally, union leaders met with county Chief Executive William T Fujioaka.

The event ended in some chaos. Two women protesting raises for social workers held their signs in front of the podium. SEIU members tried to take their signs, while others tried to stop them. A tussle ensued, and an older women was either pushed or fell. As she lay on the ground, sheriff’s deputies questioned at least one of the women. Paramedics were called, placed a brace around the older woman’s neck, and took her by ambulance to a hospital.

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Twitter: @LATSeema

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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