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County Workers OK Strike if Raise Demands Are Not Met

Labor: Union officials say employees went without pay increases during hard times, but now want more than the 1% to 1.5% they say is being offered.

September 05, 1997|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than 1,400 members of Los Angeles County's largest employee union voted Thursday evening to authorize a strike if their demands for a significant raise are not met by the time their various contracts expire Sept. 30.

The workers, members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 660, also spent the evening plotting strategies for job actions leading up to such a walkout and signing up for civil disobedience protest workshops. In the coming weeks, general manager Annelle Grajeda told the members, they will stage strike preparation rallies to show the Board of Supervisors how serious they are about walking off the job. Those rallies are scheduled for separate days in each supervisorial district during the third week of September and will target all county facilities, Grajeda said.

"Our members are tired of being disrespected and being taken for granted," Grajeda told members during a nighttime rally at the Department of Water and Power headquarters downtown. "We are unified, and we are ready to fight."

Grajeda said the union's 40,000 members helped the county weather its recent fiscal crisis by going without raises--some for as long as six years. But when the county supervisors passed their annual budget in June, she noted, no money was set aside for employee raises.

Now, Grajeda said, the county has finally put an offer on the table that amounts to a 1% to 1.5% annual increase for three years--far less than the union believes its workers deserve.

"It is insulting," Grajeda said, "Frankly we haven't demanded raises [in the past]. We understood the crisis. But now the stock market is booming, the economy is booming and now we are demanding a raise and that this board respect their employees."

County officials would not comment on the size of their salary offer.

"We are at the table with an economic package, ready to negotiate," said the county's chief administrative officer, David Janssen, who is overseeing the negotiations for the board.

Janssen said the Board of Supervisors has said all along that it considers providing raises for the county's more than 80,000 employees a high priority. Half of them are represented by the union.

But Janssen said the county's fiscal condition is still precarious and that the supervisors must balance their desire to give raises with the need to regain what they regard as financial stability.

County officials have argued that each 1% in across-the-board raises will increase labor costs $20 million. The union believes each 1% increase costs only $8 million, and that county officials are exaggerating.

Several hundred sheriff's deputies also met Thursday night in an adjacent room at the DWP headquarters to plot strategy. They have been working without a contract since January and have said that they too will reject the county's offer of a 1.5% annual increase for three years.

Jeffrey Monical, a spokesman for the Assn. for Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies, said the rank and file consider the offer demeaning and insulting. "There is a very strong sentiment to consider job actions," he said.

Law enforcement officers are legally forbidden to strike. But sources among the sheriff's representatives said that they can slow down work operations to show their frustration without technically walking off the job.

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