From downtown to Los Angeles International Airport, thousands of city workers went on strike on Tuesday, August 8, for a 24-hour work stoppage prompted by what their union believes is a lack of good-faith labor negotiations, but municipal leaders said the city continued to operate –albeit with some disruptions.

The striking workers showed up overnight at City Hall, prompting a closure of some streets surrounding the iconic seat of municipal government. Early Tuesday 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.

Ahead of a planned rally at City Hall at 11 a.m. Tuesday, union members addressed City Council members and urged them to ensure “fair labor negotiations.”

Barbara Calhoun joined city workers on the picket line on August 8. (Courtesy photo)

“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 CAO (city administrative officer) authority to bargain (with us).”

Council President Paul Krekorian issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to the workers’ strike, 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.

City workers picketed all across the city for fair labor negotiations. (Courtesy photo)

“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.

He said although Tuesday’s work stoppage is “regrettable,” the city will continue to negotiate in good faith with the coalition.

“I have every confidence that we will achieve a positive outcome,” Krekorian 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.” Thousands more union members convened outside City Hall with picket signs Tuesday afternoon.

City officials warned the public that the walkout by some 11,000 workers 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.”

Tuesday afternoon, she said in a statement that the city was weathering the walkout well.
“The city will always be available to make progress with SEIU 721 and we will continue bargaining in good faith.”

The workers represented by the Service Employees International Union  Local 721 are fighting for higher wages and improved benefits, and they say contract talks have lagged. The union and city officials will resume negotiations on Monday, August 14, SEIU officials confirmed.

The walkout marked the first such strike action by Los Angeles city workers in more than 40 years. SEIU Local 721 represents more than 95,000 public sector workers in Southern California.

According to the union, the city of Los Angeles strike “comes at a watershed moment for the city, with officials preparing for the World Cup and Olympic Games in the coming years. Both events promise to have long-lasting impacts on the entire Southern California region, with a massive influx of tourists and athletes putting an enormous strain on the city’s frontline
services, all on the world stage.”

It also comes at a time when the city is experiencing a more than 20% job vacancy rate across departments.

“We are going to be throughout the entire city striking to send a message that the city’s broken the law,” said David Green, president and executive director of SEIU 721. “They need to come back to the table, they need to fill these vacancies and they need to listen to the concerns of the public.”

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.

“Today’s 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 today’s action the city will change its tune and resume negotiations in good faith,” she added.

The most recent strike by Los Angeles city workers occurred in  November 1980.