Striking city workers become the latest to take part in L.A.’s sizzling season of labor action

People wearing matching shirts and holding signs march.
City workers hit the picket lines at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday for a massive one-day strike.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, August 9.

“L.A. city you’re no good. Treat your workers like you should.”

That was a chant city workers shouted outside Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday after hundreds there and thousands more across the city walked off their jobs for a 24-hour strike. It was the first major walkout by the city government’s workers in decades.

The swath of workers withholding their labor — lifeguards, sanitation workers, traffic officers, airport custodians, port workers and more — left many city services unfulfilled. That included most trash collection, cleaning and maintenance at the airport and other facilities, the closure of animal shelters and some public pools, plus more chaos around some city concert venues without Los Angeles Department of Transportation traffic officers there to direct and manage drivers.

The union issued some workers with public safety responsibilities “line passes” to cross the picket lines and report for their shifts.


Leaders from Service Employees International Union Local 721 called the strike following a breakdown in labor talks with city negotiators, who the union accuses of unfair labor practices.

“People don’t understand the hard work they do. There’s a lot of unsung heroes in the city,” union president and executive director David Green told The Times. “It’s important that the city, that we take a day to recognize that, and let the city know ... they need to respect what we do as city employees.”

A major catalyst for Tuesday’s action was ongoing city worker shortages, sparked by the pandemic. In an effort to cut payroll costs and soften the financial blow most cities faced in 2020, the city launched a Separation Incentive Plan, making some workers eligible for up to $80,000 for retiring. Many workers left and the city has struggled to replace them across departments.

Striking workers who spoke with Times reporters said they’re overworked, expected to take on more duties with less support. Workers also said their pay has not kept up with the cost of living, describing lengthy commutes from far-flung cities and suburbs where they can afford to live on the city wages they earn.

A crowd of people holding signs, many wearing purple shirts.
Thousands of city workers walked a picket line out in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday for a scheduled 24-hour work stoppage.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The strike officially began at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and workers began gathering at the airport and other sites as the day progressed. Hundreds filled the streets and sidewalks around L.A. City Hall, wearing matching purple shirts and carrying signs as they rallied together outside the city’s center of power.


L.A. Mayor Karen Bass and other city leaders have denied the union’s allegations of unfair practices and announced a plan “ensuring no public safety or housing and homelessness emergency operations are impacted by this action.”

Bass said in a statement the city “will always be available to make progress with SEIU 721 and we will continue bargaining in good faith.”

It’s been a busy year of labor action in greater L.A. If you’re having trouble keeping up, there’s the ongoing writer’s strike against the major Hollywood studios and streaming giants, which grew into a historic joint strike with action by Screen Actor’s Guild members. Hotel workers across Southern California have also been orchestrating frequent strikes since early July, demanding higher pay and better working conditions. And back in March, 30,000 LAUSD workers walked out for a historic three-day strike, joined in solidarity by the district’s unionized teachers.

Workers’ frequent organized actions, plus the level of unity across various workers’ unions, is noteworthy in the “famously fractured city,” Times columnist Gustavo Arellano wrote this week:

“You don’t have to like the labor movement to see that they’re the canary in the coal mine of L.A.’s economic health. If belonging to a union isn’t enough to guarantee a well-paying job, then what is?”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California, from Helen Li:


Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


275 days later, Mammoth Mountain just wrapped up one of its longest ski seasons in history. Credit goes to a series of atmospheric rivers over the winter that dropped rain and snow in the East Sierra Mountains. NPR

After the Pac-12 shake-up, University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford are courting the ACC. The two Bay Area schools left out of the Big Ten expansion hope they will raise the annual value of the ACC’s media rights with ESPN. CBS

As companies call for a return to office, some workers say remote job opportunities give them a reprieve from racism. Los Angeles Times

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Two tables with labeled guns on them
ATF agents and Escondido police officers seized 113 guns, many of them “ghost guns,” during an 18-month investigation into Escondido street gangs.
(Courtesy of ATF Los Angeles Field Division)

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled against “ghost guns.” The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted an emergency appeal from the Biden administration and revived federal rules that forbid the sale or use of assembled guns that can be bought online and are untraceable. Los Angeles Times

It’s never been easier to vote in the Golden State. But a new survey from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that the state’s most frequent voters remain older, whiter and wealthier than most Californians. Just under 4 in 10 of the state’s registered voters are considered regular voters — defined in the study as those who have cast ballots in at least five of the last seven statewide elections. Los Angeles Times


California produces a lot of the nation’s food, but many state residents still go hungry. CalMatters takes a deep dive into the scale of food insecurity and the potential solutions to these persistent challenges like aid mismatch and red tape. CalMatters

In a Chinatown eviction battle, landlords are ordering tenants to pay or leave. Originally developed in the 1980s as affordable housing for the city of L.A., Hillside Villa’s 30-year affordability covenant has expired. Tenants received three-day notices this weekend. LAist

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A former Bay Area startup worker is now a Yakitori evangelist. Between his frequent pop-ups, his online tutorials and his behind-the-scenes videos of izakayas and other yakitori specialists around the world, “Yakitoriguy” is teaching people the art of the grilled bird. Los Angeles Times


Marvel’s VFX workers vote to unionize amid Hollywood’s hot labor summer. Crew members at the Walt Disney Co.-owned superhero film and TV studio have filed for a union election, marking the first move of its kind for the VFX industry. Los Angeles Times


Today’s California landmark is from Kennedy Grace of Los Angeles: the Bay Area community of Belvedere, for its “beautiful views and the best weather.” Here’s one of those views Kennedy captured:

Boats sail in the San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge visible in the background.
Boats sail in the San Francisco Bay near the small community of Belvedere.
(Kennedy Grace)

What are California’s essential landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special spot in California — natural or human-made. Tell us why it’s interesting and what makes it a symbol of life in the Golden State. Please be sure to include only photos taken directly by you. Your submission could be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

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