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Largest L.A. County employee union votes to approve contract including 10% raise

Workers represented by Los Angeles County’s largest employee union voted to approve a tentative agreement with county management that would give them a 10% raise over three years.

Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents more than 57,000 county employees, including nurses, social workers and clerical workers, tallied ballots Thursday after a monthlong voting process.

The union announced late Thursday that 99% of voting members had cast ballots in favor of the deal.

Apart from the pay increase, the new contract would make Cesar Chavez Day an official county holiday starting in 2017, provide as much as an additional week of annual vacation every year and put some temporary workers on a path to full-time jobs.

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It would also guarantee a minimum pay of $15 an hour by 2018, a faster schedule than the overall county minimum wage, which will reach $15 in 2020 for businesses in unincorporated areas.

“As the largest employer in L.A. County, the county must set the bar when it comes to creating jobs that offer livable wages and stability to working families,” SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover said in a statement.

The Board of Supervisors must take a final vote of approval on the contract. Board members already unanimously approved similar deals for other employee groups, including firefighters and sheriff’s deputies, and indicated that they would support the SEIU contract.

The estimated cost of the increases over the course of the SEIU contract is about $450 million, including $98 million this fiscal year, which ends in June. The county’s total annual budget is $28 billion.

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County spokesman Dave Sommers said the pay increases are not expected to boost the county’s unfunded pension liability because planners assume a 3.5% annual growth in salaries when making their projections. The 10% increase over three years “is in line with what is already planned for,” he said.

This year’s bargaining process stands in contrast to the last round of county negotiations in 2013, when months of contentious talks culminated in hundred of children’s social workers walking off the job to protest high caseloads. At that time, most county employees had gone without raises for four years. The deal reached at that time gave employees a 6% raise over three years and an agreement to hire 450 more social workers. During that process, the county and unions also worked out a deal intended to reduce the county’s costs for retiree healthcare.

Twitter: @sewella

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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