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Ventura County

Simi Workers Agree to Strike

Union: About 300 city clerical and technical employees authorize an action if no progress is made in negotiations. They want a pay raise and better benefits.

June 29, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Members of Simi Valley's largest public-employees union have authorized a strike if no progress is made with city officials on negotiations for a new contract, union leaders said Friday.

About 300 clerical and technical workers who make up Service Employees International Union Local 998 are seeking a pay hike and improved health benefits in their contract, which expires Sunday.

"It's difficult for a city such as Simi Valley to attract and retain the best workers when those workers can barely afford to live in the same city in which they work," said Edgar McLemore, president of the Simi Valley bargaining unit.

Assistant City Manager Laura Magelnicki said she believes a strike can be avoided, because both sides are still negotiating the terms of a new contract. She declined to discuss the details of the negotiations.

"We want to reach an agreement with them, and we're doing the best we can," Magelnicki said. "A strike does nobody any good, and it's not something the city would want to see happen. We do believe they are entitled to some settlement."

It has been three years since this group of employees negotiated its last contract. The last strike occurred in 1978, said Barry Hammitt, executive director of Local 998.

Members of the Simi Valley Local 998 on average make $16 an hour, and the union is proposing a 5% pay increase.

Workers say that raise would put them closer to salary levels of employees in neighboring cities. They are also seeking adjustments to their health and retirement benefits.

McLemore said an informal survey earlier this year showed that SEIU employees in Simi Valley have salaries that average 10% to 15% below those for employees in other cities in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and that they pay more than twice as much for health insurance as management employees and police officers in Simi Valley.

He noted that the city's management employees, who are not unionized, were just granted a 3% pay hike.

"While we don't begrudge anyone their fair share, we do feel it's our turn now," McLemore said.

Hammitt said the bargaining unit has not decided how long it is willing to wait for a settlement before calling for a strike.

A meeting between the union and the city is scheduled for Wednesday.

"The employees are sending a message to the City Council that they are bound and determined to get fair and just treatment," Hammitt said. "If they don't, [the workers are] willing to withhold their services until they do."

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