By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO, City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Union organizers expect thousands of county workers to walk off the job today to demand higher wages after nearly five years without any increase.
"We've brought thoughtful proposals that would benefit Angelenos of all stripes to the bargaining table," said David Green, a children's social worker and treasurer for Service Employees International Union Local 721. "The county has been ignoring the needs of L.A. residents by dragging its heels and failing to negotiate seriously."
A county spokesman said a proposal is currently on the table offering a 2 percent wage increase this month, 2 percent next October and 2 percent in April 2015, a deal similar to one tentatively accepted by 21 of 28 non-public safety unions.
"What we have on the table is a conservative, financially viable salary increase," said county spokesman David Sommers.
But a union spokesman flatly denied that the union had received that proposal.
"That deal has not been offered to us," said SEIU spokesman Lowell Goodman.
Goodman declined to say whether a 6 percent increase would be accepted or precisely what level of wage would be acceptable.
"Then I'd be doing the work of the bargaining team," Goodman said.
He did say that workers had been asked to contribute more to their healthcare premiums at a level that would, in many cases, exceed the amount of a 2 percent raise.
About half of the roughly 55,000 SEIU local union members earn $40,000 a year or less, Goodman said, while the county spokesman cited the average salary, which he calculated at $53,800 per year.
But union members are also pressing for non-economic terms, like a stronger rideshare program to reduce traffic congestion and a move to close property tax loopholes for large corporations.
"Bargaining is a chance for our members ... to bargain around things that will improve their jobs and the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles County," Goodman said. But the county has "said no to everything non- economic."
Sommers said the SEIU employees -- who include nurses, social workers, park employees and librarians -- provide services he called "critical."
"These are the people that the public interacts with the most," Sommers said, adding praise for the unions.
"All of our labor partners did this incredible thing over the last four years. We haven't had to cut public services ... because labor agreed to forego raises during the recession," Sommers said.
The parties are no longer at the bargaining table and any new proposal will require a vote by the Board of Supervisors at its next public meeting scheduled for Oct. 8, according to Goodman.
So workers will walk off the job this morning, but the union rep stressed that it is not a strike and employees will return to work Wednesday morning.
A rally by workers is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at 350 S. Grand Ave. and end at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration at 500 W. Temple St.
"The county is optimistic that we will have a resolution soon," Sommers said.