Los Angeles city workers authorize strike

10,000 LA city workers authorize strike vote, including garbage truck drivers, engineers and clerks

Los Angeles garbage truck drivers, traffic officers, tree trimmers, engineers and typists are among 10,000 city workers who gave authorization Friday night to walk off the job to protest a proposed contract that offers no raises and requires them to chip in for healthcare premiums.

Workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 721 voted 86% in favor of striking, said Coral Itzcalli, a union spokeswoman. The vote means that 10,000 workers could walk off the job at any time, she said, though no such action has yet been called.

Itzcalli declined to say what percentage of SEIU Local 721's membership participated in the vote. Workers have been casting ballots at work locations over the last 10 days.

"It’s up to the mayor and City Hall leaders to figure out how they are going to work with our employees to prevent a really big work stoppage from happening," Itzcalli said.

Another 10,000 workers, represented by the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, are also without a contract. But it's unclear if those workers will also take a strike authorization vote. 

SEIU's vote comes after almost a year of contract talks between union negotiators and city officials. Sticking points have included the city's demands that workers forgo raises for three years and contribute more to their retirement costs and healthcare premiums. Many coalition workers now pay no premiums.

Workers' last contract, secured in 2007 shortly before the Great Recession, included 24.5% pay increases over several years. Union leaders argue that despite those raises their employees have suffered because of the city’s budgetary woes, agreeing to furlough days and greater contributions to their pension costs.

The unions are the last and largest labor groups not to negotiate a new contract since Mayor Eric Garcetti took office in 2013. Coalition employees have been working without a contract since last summer, and tension has mounted as the impasse has dragged on. In February, members of the group staged demonstrations during breaks from work across the city. This month garbage truck drivers and parking enforcement officers staged a sick out.

In its prepared statement, SEIU Local 721 included a comment from Stacee Karnya, a city environmental monitor. Karnya said approving a strike is "never easy" but that action has become necessary.

"We are now ready to strike if that is what it takes for Mayor Garcetti and the City Council to finally address what ails Los Angeles and lift up hope for the neighborhoods that depend on the services we provide,'' Karnya said.

The average salary of a coalition employee is $67,000, labor leaders say.

Times staff writer Peter Jamison contributed to this report.

Follow me at Twitter.com/csaillant2


Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times