LA City workers go on strike for 1st time in decades

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

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: What will be impacted by the LA City workers strike

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. The picketing disrupted some traffic in the always-crowded LAX horseshoe, and clogged entrances to some terminals.

Ahead of a planned rally at City Hall Tuesday, union members addressed City Council members and urged them 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 CAO (city administrative officer) authority to bargain (with us)."

Thousands more union members convened outside City Hall with picket signs.

City officials warned the public that the walkout by some 11,000 workers would lead to some service disruptions, but Mayor Karen Bass insisted that "the city of Los Angeles is not going to shut down."

"My office is implementing a plan ensuring no public safety or housing and homelessness emergency operations are impacted by this action," Bass said in a statement Monday.

"Like I said over the weekend, 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.

Downtown Los Angeles skyline (SkyFOX) (FOX 11)

The union and city officials will resume negotiations next Monday, SEIU officials confirmed.

Earlier this week, City Council President Paul Krekorian said city-operated preschools and daycare centers would be open as usual Tuesday, but trash pickup will be delayed by one day, while some municipal pools may be closed. He urged residents to call in advance.

According to Bass' office, other city services expected to be impacted include:

-- CARE and CARE+ operations scheduled for Tuesday will be deferred to Saturday. For any unanticipated sewer related emergencies, the city's sanitation department may use on-call contractors to provide repairs or maintenance;

-- Traffic services may be impacted, including parking enforcement, traffic operations and control for permitted special events, and constituent calls for service to signals and sign repairs. Residents may experience traffic delays at major events;

-- Animal shelters will be closed to the public. Shelters will be open for emergency services, such as sick and injured animals, and animals that pose public safety risks;

-- The city's 311 call center will remain open, but wait times may be longer than average.

The walkout marks the first such strike action by Los Angeles city workers in more than 40 years.

The employees, including sanitation workers, heavy duty mechanics, traffic officers and engineers represented by SEIU Local 721, voted overwhelmingly in May -- with 98% approval -- to authorize an unfair labor practice strike if negotiations stalled.

"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.

Bass issued a statement Saturday saying Los Angeles officials are available around the clock "to make progress" on contract negotiations.

"City workers are vital to the function of services for millions of Angelenos every day and to our local economy," Bass said. "They deserve fair contracts and we have been bargaining in good faith with SEIU 721 since January. The city will always be available to make progress 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

The labor action comes amid ongoing strikes by Hollywood writers and actors as well as 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.

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.

Timothy O'Reilly, chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, criticized the union's planned actions, saying Monday that by "holding up essential services as families start school and our city reaches maximum capacity threatens not only lives but our city's rapidly declining reputation."

"If we can't keep basic services afloat, it's no wonder Los Angeles' population is projected to decline by 1.5 million by 2060," O'Reilly said in a statement.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said the association understands that "union leaders want to do the best they can for their members."

But, he said, it was important to remember that the "money to pay public employees comes from taxpayers, including union (members) themselves, and forcing taxpayers to pay more can result in cuts to essential services or higher taxes."

David Green, president and executive director of SEIU 721, told City News Service last week that 30-plus strike lines were expected Tuesday all across the city.

"We are going to be throughout the entire city striking to send a message that the city's broken the law," Green said. "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."

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.

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