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Union Puts Pressure on Supervisors

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Times Staff Writer

A week before Los Angeles County supervisors take up a nearly $20-billion budget described as one of the healthiest in decades, county employees are stepping up pressure for raises that keep pace with the accelerating local cost of living.

On Tuesday, more than 1,000 members of Service Employees International Union Local 660 -- which represents more than half of the county’s 90,000 employees -- staged a noisy rally at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.

And union leaders warned of dramatic action if the county’s five elected supervisors don’t offer a more generous pay package than the 5% raise over three years that the union agreed to in 2003.

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The contract expires Sept. 30.

“Government employees should not be living in poverty,” union general manager Annelle Grajeda told the supervisors Tuesday, adding that thousands of her members qualify for food stamps.

The saber rattling mirrors similar efforts three years ago, when contract talks stalled over county demands that workers pay more for their health insurance.

In 2003, the county, like governments statewide, was struggling to recover from declining tax revenues after the dot-com collapse.

And the county’s labor negotiations unfolded against the backdrop of disruptive strikes in the grocery industry and at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

This year, labor negotiations have produced fewer fireworks.

But Local 660 is working to focus attention on staffing shortages in critical county positions, such as nursing at county hospitals.

The union argues that low salaries -- frozen at least three times since the early ‘90s -- are making it harder for the county to hire and retain workers.

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The union, which represents nurses, social workers, clerks, custodians and others, reports that its members’ median income is $43,277 a year.

County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen said he hopes the county, which recently approved raises for sheriff’s deputies and probation officers, can reach a contract agreement with Local 660 by September.

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