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County Union Workers 'Draw Line' on Contracts

Nearly 2,000 rally outside supervisors' meeting to protest stalled talks and a proposed increase in health-care costs.

October 29, 2003|Daren Briscoe | Times Staff Writer

Nearly 2,000 union members employed by Los Angeles County held an emotion-charged rally Tuesday to protest stalled contract talks and proposed increases in employee contributions to health plans.

Workers and representatives from more than a dozen unions packed the entrance to the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration well before the regular 10 a.m. start of the weekly Board of Supervisors meeting, blowing on shrill whistles and hoisting signs that read "We're drawing the line."

Several hundred of the protesters then filed into the hall, where union leaders addressed the board. They argued against what they called "take-aways" in the county's contract proposals that would freeze most pay and benefit levels and raise employee health insurance costs.

"If you continue to make these demands at the bargaining table, I will tell you there will be no labor peace in L.A. County," said Annelle Grajeda, general manager of the Service Employees International Union, Local 660, which represents about 50,000 county employees. "Take your take-aways off the table."

The county employs 90,000 workers, nearly all members of unions whose contracts have expired. But the county's 2003-04 budget contains no money for raises, in anticipation of almost certain cutbacks tied to state budget reductions.

California, which funds nearly 20% of the county's $16.8-billion budget, is staring at a budget shortfall estimated at $8 billion, and Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's vow to cut vehicle registration fees by $4 billion could cost the county as much as $840 million annually.

At the same time, the county is trying to keep up with the rapidly escalating cost of health insurance, in part by having employees bear more of the cost of insurance premiums, which are expected to increase by as much as 35% over the next three years.

County officials also are dealing with a strike by transit workers that has halted service to as many as 400,000 bus and train commuters.

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