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A Coalition of LA County Unions Say Thousands of Workers Are 'Drowning' And Need A Wage Increase

A man stands behind a podium which says Unions United. A big graph is on a board next to him shows a steady increase in inflation over the past year
Dave Gilotte, the president of the County Coalition of Unions, speaks at a press conference outside the LA County Hall of Administration.
(Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)
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“Show us that you care.”

That’s the message from the County Coalition of Unions, representing over 85,000 LA County workers including doctors, first responders, and service workers who are currently in contract negotiations.

Union leaders at a press conference on Thursday morning said that the county has not adequately met their bargaining demands of a fair wage increase to offset unprecedented inflation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the fifteen unions in the coalition, SEIU 721, which represents roughly 55,000 county public service employees, is currently voting to authorize a strike. Other unions have also taken to the streets recently to raise awareness for their contract negotiations.

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Dave Gilotte, president of the County Coalition of Unions, pointed to a graph that showed a steady increase in inflation over the past year – the number hit 8.5% in March.

“This is very serious,” Gilotte said, explaining that his members are coping with choosing between gas and rent. And that’s putting them at odds with management.

“For the first time ever, we find ourselves adverse and not in a position to have an arrangement where we can work together to solve contract bargaining.”

In a statement, the county said that they were engaged in good faith negotiations with the labor unions. “We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement soon, on a fair contract that is fiscally responsible and recognizes our valued employees' essential contributions,” the statement read.

Julian Hirschbaum, vice president of the union representing resident physicians at LAC+USC Medical Center, said workers were “drowning” in debt and the rising cost of living.

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Hirschbaum said after two long months of negotiation, the county has frozen their wage increase.

“Our first year resident physician makes about $14 an hour,” he said. “Let that sink in for a second. That's less than minimum wage.”

He said during the past few years medical workers have “endured the most grueling years of our career.”

“We called families and had to tell them that their loved one was not going to come home. And we held their hand while they took their last breath in the intensive care unit,” he said.

Hirschbaum said they did that because they cared about their community.

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“And what did we get in return?”

What questions do you have about criminal justice in Southern California? 
Emily Elena Dugdale covers smaller police departments around Southern California, school safety officers, jails and prisons, and juvenile justice issues. She also covers the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.