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L.A. County workers hold rally to demand pay raises

Hundreds protest at the county Hall of Administration. Many say their workloads and costs of living have increased while salaries have remained static.

April 16, 2013|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • Brandon Washington, 35, of Long Beach, steward of SEIU Local 721, which represents about 55,000 county workers, takes part in a protest rally at the Hall of Administration. Workers are demanding pay raises from the Board of Supervisors.
Brandon Washington, 35, of Long Beach, steward of SEIU Local 721, which… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Hundreds of Los Angeles County employees flocked to the Hall of Administration on Tuesday to demand pay raises from the Board of Supervisors.

Many who lined the steps wore purple Service Employees International Union shirts, blew whistles and waived flags bearing the phrase "Turn It Up." Some also brought children to the rally — which coincided with the county's Take Your Child to Work Day — holding signs that said "My Mom Needs a Raise" and "My Dad Needs a Raise."

Supervisors were slated to discuss a $24.7-billion budget proposal unveiled by county Chief Executive William T Fujioka, which for the first time in five years is balanced and contains no major cuts.

Unlike the city of Los Angeles and many other municipalities, the county has weathered the recession without layoffs or furloughs, in part because most of the county's approximately 101,000 employees have gone without raises for the last five years. The county is currently at the bargaining table with public safety employees and will go into negotiations with other labor groups in the coming months.

Officials with SEIU Local 721, which represents about 55,000 county workers, said they expected 2,000 to 3,000 members to turn out to demonstrate throughout the day.

Local 721 regional director Michael Green told the supervisors, "For five years we've been patient, for five years we've sacrificed, but in 2013, come hell or high water, there will be a raise for SEIU Local 721 members."

Many of the workers said their workloads and costs of living had increased while salaries remained static.

Frank Pineda, 41, a welfare-to-work supervisor in the Department of Public Social Services, came to the rally with his 10-year-old daughter and their South African mastiff.

"As public servants, we said we need to have a strong county, and we made concessions for years," he said. "It's about time they do what we did."

County officials have signaled that they are open to a pay increase, but some urged caution.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich noted during Tuesday's budget discussion that the county still faces fiscal uncertainties, including the costs of implementing healthcare reform and prison realignment, and what he termed an "unfunded mandate" by the state to clean up polluted storm water.

"We're still not out of the woods yet, so it's important that the board continue to have prudent, responsible financial practices and continue with caution," Antonovich said.

The costs of employee health and retirement benefits have also continued to rise despite the wage freeze — the county's costs for benefits increased $92 million in the last year, Fujioka said.

Public hearings on the budget proposal will begin May 15, with a final document to be approved in June.

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