Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — More than 11,000 unionized Los Angeles city workers returned to the job Aug. 9, one day after staging a 24-hour strike that delayed trash pickups, snarled traffic at LAX and caused all manner of other disruptions that the city was able to weather in the short term.
The walkout by members of Service Employees International Union Local 721 — representing sanitation workers, heavy-duty mechanics, traffic officers and engineers, among others — was prompted by what the union said has been a lack of good-faith labor negotiations, a charge city officials dispute.
Meanwhile, the union and the city will resume negotiations Aug. 14, SEIU officials confirmed.
Striking workers showed up early at City Hall Aug. 8, prompting a closure of some streets surrounding the iconic seat of municipal government. Later that morning, more workers began picketing at LAX, where some shuttle bus drivers were among those walking off the job, complicating travel for many people looking to catch flights. The picketing disrupted some traffic in the always-crowded LAX horseshoe, and clogged entrances to some terminals.
Thousands more union members convened outside City Hall with picket signs that afternoon.
Union members also addressed the City Council, urging its members to ensure “fair labor negotiations.”
“We are here. You hear us outside. We’re tired of the disrespect when it comes to bargaining,” said Simboa Wright, vice president of the union and a wastewater collection worker with more than 20 years of city service.
“We’re asking every last one of you as City Council members to assist and give the [city administrative officer] authority to bargain [with us].”
Council President Paul Krekorian issued a statement insisting the city’s negotiating team has been engaged in “serious negotiations” with the Coalition of City Unions since January, including “36 separate sessions with SEIU alone.”
As a result of those negotiations, the unions and the city already reached 76 tentative agreements with coalition members, he said.
“The rising cost of living, particularly the cost of housing, is unquestionably creating financial strain on our city employees and all working Angelenos,” Krekorian said in a statement. “We need to find solutions that will address that reality and demonstrate the respect and appreciation that those who serve the public deserve, while recognizing the very real limitations and future uncertainties of the city’s budget,” he added.
Krekorian said that while the work stoppage was “regrettable,” the city will continue to negotiate in good faith with the coalition.
“I have every confidence that we will achieve a positive outcome,” he said in a statement. “Given the progress we have already made in these negotiations, and our commitment to reaching a fair deal, there is no reason to anticipate any prolonged work stoppage that would be detrimental to the people we serve.”
City officials had warned that the walkout would lead to some service disruptions, but Mayor Karen Bass insisted ahead of the strike that “the city of Los Angeles is not going to shut down.”
In a statement Aug. 8, Bass said the city was weathering the walkout well.
“City services were impacted but continued today,” Bass said. “Public safety and homeless housing emergency services continue. City-operated summer camps and day cares are open. Services at LAX continue with limited impact to travelers. A number of public pools are open throughout the city.
The Los Angeles City Zoo is open and so are our libraries. All of our animal shelters are open to the public and our 311 Call Center is taking calls.”
During a rally at City Hall Aug. 8, Bass drew praise from Local 721 President David Green.
“This strike is not a strike against our Mayor Karen Bass,” he said. “She’s always been there for working people. So, I think, let’s give a round of applause for the mayor.”
Union members voted overwhelmingly in May — with 98% approval — to authorize an unfair labor practice strike if negotiations stalled.
The workers represented by SEIU Local 721 are fighting for higher wages and improved benefits, and they say contract talks have lagged.
“Despite repeated attempts by city workers to engage management in a fair bargaining process, the city has flat-out refused to honor previous agreements at the bargaining table, prompting workers to file charges alleging unfair labor practices with the city of Los Angeles Employee Relations Board,” SEIU 721 officials said in a statement last week.
The union ratified a one-year agreement with the city in November 2022 with the understanding the two sides would return to the bargaining table immediately after the winter holidays, SEIU Local 721 Chief of Staff Gilda Valdez told the Los Angeles Times. The city and union would then negotiate over a number of smaller specific proposals, she said.
But the city has “reneged on their promise to negotiate on these issues,” according to Valdez, prompting the union to file an unfair labor practice claim with the city Employee Relations Board, along with other claims filed over various issues in recent months.
SEIU 721 members secured a 3% raise and a one-time 5% bonus through the existing one-year agreement, which is set to expire in December.
“[The] strike was an unfair labor practice strike as a result of the city’s repeated labor law violations,” Roxane Marquez, communications specialist for SEIU 721 said in an email to City News Service. “Their failure to bargain in good faith with our members means that we’re not even close to proposing any sort of numbers at the table for our successor contract.”
“We’re hopeful that after [this] action the city will change its tune and resume negotiations in good faith,” she added.
The labor action came amid ongoing strikes by Hollywood writers and actors, as well as by thousands of cooks, maids, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front-desk agents at 46 Los Angeles area hotels represented by Unite HERE Local 11.
“It feels like it’s ‘Strike Summer’ because it is,” SEIU 721 officials tweeted in late July. “But make no mistake — our fight for respect does not end with the summer. It ends with contracts that adequately protect and pay us.”
SEIU Local 721 represents more than 95,000 public sector workers in Southern California. The most recent strike by Los Angeles city workers occurred in November 1980.