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LA County Workers Talk Back to President Clinton

by Julia Stein, LA Free Press Sunday, Aug. 20, 2000 at 5:33 PM

Report on the march.

A thousand workers for the County of Los Angeles in the Service Employees International Union (S.E.I.U.) Local 660 marched Tuesday, August 14, at 4:00 for a "Fair Share for Los Angeles County's Working Families" to Staples Center where they had a short rally. They had listened to President Clinton's speech the night before lauding the prosperity in this county, and the county workers answered President Clinton that most working families have not shared in the prosperity.They marched to ask political leaders for policies to address the growing economic hardships in America for LA County working families and for working families throughout America. At the rally they were joined by State Senator Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys), Miguel Contreras who is head of the LA County AFL-CIO; and SEIU Local 1887's Mike Garcia who led the victorious janitors' strike.

The march was organized by S.E.I.U. Local 660 which represents 45,000 county workers. They gathered at Grand and Hope Park at 3:30: librarians, eligibility workers, flood control workers, court employees, clerical employees, nurses, maintenance workers, health inspectors. Many were dressed in purple t-shirts, waved blue-green signs saying "Fair Share," had whistles which they blew, or pounded drums. A loudspeaker blared "The Heat is On," and many marchers danced to the disco beat. Penny Lagusoonthorn, who works for the LA County Fire Department Headquarters, explained that their contract is soon up at the end of September.

At 4:00 the march moved out down 9th Street which was deserted with just a few police around and turned left at Figueroa arriving at the Staples Center. As they marched they chanted, "What do you want?" Then the crowd chanted "Fair share." "When do you want it?" "Now." The S.E.I.U speaker at the rally said that in the midst of great prosperity and government surpluses county workers aren't better than they were four years ago. He added that later that evening they were taking a strike vote and they were putting the County of Los Angeles on notice that "we're strong, united and organized."

Alejandro Stephens, President of Local 660, said, "We want the County Board of Supervisors to recognize our members' sacrifices over the past ten years of tight budgets, hiring freezes, and cost-cutting." Stephens added, "L.A. County workers have lost ground over the last decade" as county workers salaries have not kept up with inflation. The county is offering a 9% raise spread over three years. S.E.I.U.'s Local 660's Mark Tarnawsky said that the county's offer of a 9% raise over the next three years wouldn't even keep up with the inflation rate so county employees would fall even furthur behind in their wages. The union is asking for 15% over three years which just barely keeps them ahead of inflation.

Darla Alexander, Intermediate Typist Clerk for the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, is a single mother like many other county workers. She said on her clerk's wages she can't afford to buy a car and "there's no way that I can save up any money--for a car, a home, or a college for my little one ... If not having any money left over at the end of the month is being poor, then I'm poor."

SEIU Local 660 points out that many of its members are part of the disappearing middle class and "thousand of Local 660 members live from paycheck to paycheck--juggling rent with child care, food, and emergencies, such as unexpected car repairs." A union spokesperson said that although Los Angeles County board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance requiring County contractors to pay their employees a living wage of at least .46/hour, they don't pay their own employees a living wages. Many Library Aides and Library pages earn "less than per hour with no health benefits of even sick leave."

The union is also asking to extend health care benefits and retirement to temporary and part-time workers and resist any cutbacks in health care for full time workers. Since 70% of Local 660 members are women and many single mothers with children who pay up to a third of their income in child care, Local 660 is asking for the county to provide more affordable child care. The union wants to county to invest in its own employees by expanding the million Labor-Management Training Found to give career development for county employees.

After the spirited rally, the County workers marched another mile through downtown to the Grand Olympic Auditorium for their strike vote. There they overwhelmingly voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike if negotiations over the next month don't give a satisfactory contract. According to SEIU Local 660;'s Mark Tarnawsky the members are ready for a strike.

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