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.