LOS ANGELES (CN) — More than a thousand Los Angeles County employees rallied in downtown LA on Thursday, demanding substantial salary increases amid spiking inflation.
"The message is clear," SEIU local 721 President David Green told the crowd, "Respect us! Protect us! Pay us!"
SEIU 721 represents 96,000 public employees in Southern California, roughly 55,000 of which — including social workers, nurses, clerks, librarians, custodians and more — work for the county. Their contracts are set to expire at midnight Friday. Union officials say they've been offered a 2% raise.
"I filled up my gas tank the other day — it was $100," Green told the crowd. "The cost of child care is a mortgage payment." Addressing the county, he said, "You better come to the table and offer us some real money. Not this 2% B.S.!"
According to the Federal Reserve's economic data, prices have climbed by more than than 6% in the last year through February, the highest rate of inflation since 1982.
"The 2% raise they’re offering is really more like a 4% pay cut, because of the cost of inflation," said Andrew Reid, a typist at a Department of Health Care service center in Lancaster. "We are the front line workers. The Board of Supervisors has called us heroes in the past. And we’re not really being treated as such."
Union leaders say they're prepared to strike if their demands aren't met. A spokesperson for the union said a strike could be between two and four weeks away.
"We don’t want to strike, but we’re ready to strike!" Green told the crowd, to great applause.
Bob Schoonover, the union's executive director, later added: "Damn right we’re not afraid to strike!"
Union leaders have also objected to what they call the "privatization" of certain county jobs. For example, faced with staffing shortages during the pandemic, the county resorted to contracting with registered nurses employed by private companies. The union says the county is also threatening to contract out the county's 211 hotline and website for people to access various county services.
"This private contracting affects future generations," said Schoonover. "It’s an erosion of unions and the middle class."
But when workers who attended Thursday's rally were asked what their number one ask was, they all said the same thing: more money.
"We need more money," said Phyllis Mims, a clerk at LA County+USC Medical Center. "Gas prices are skyrocketing. And our pay is low."
A spokesman for the county's chief executive would not address the union's individual demands but said negotiations are ongoing.
"LA County and Service Employees International Union Local 721 are currently engaged in good faith negotiations and both sides are exchanging proposals," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We are hopeful that we will reach agreement soon on a fair contract that is fiscally responsible and also recognizes the important contributions of our valued employees."
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