Los Angeles is embroiled in a summer of labor unrest as thousands of city workers join a wave of strikes across the area’s major industries, demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
(Bloomberg) — Los Angeles is embroiled in a summer of labor unrest as thousands of city workers join a wave of strikes across the area’s major industries, demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
More than 11,000 municipal employees are poised to walk off the job for 24 hours on Tuesday, causing disruptions to sanitation, airport, postal, and port services. They are uniting with actors, writers, and hotel workers who have taken to picket lines in recent months to protest stalled contract negotiations, while advocating for issues like affordable housing and curbing Hollywood’s use of artificial intelligence.
The surge of union activity in Los Angeles reflects a broader trend of labor unrest in the US, where workers have been emboldened by the economic recovery from the pandemic and frustrated by rising inflation and inequality.
“This has been called hot labor summer and I think that that is completely accurate,” said Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, in an interview. “I have not seen this level of strikes as well as worker activism in decades.”
The city workers who are participating in the one-day strike are represented by SEIU Local 721, the largest public sector union in Southern California with more than 95,000 members. They include sanitation workers, mechanics, traffic officers and engineers who work for various city departments. The workers say their pay has not kept up with the cost of living and that they need better benefits. They also accuse the city of violating labor laws by imposing changes to their working conditions without bargaining.
The wide gap between the rich and poor in Los Angeles coupled with its expensive living conditions have fueled the labor unrest, said Wong. “You have communities of Bel Air, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Malibu, where every single house is worth millions of dollars,” he said. “And yet on the other side of town, you have conditions that rival some of the poorest parts of the developing world.”
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LA Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement Saturday that she respects the city’s employees and their right to fair contracts. She said the city has been “bargaining in good faith with SEIU 721 since January” and is committed to reaching an agreement as soon as possible.
“The city will always be available to make progress 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.
The strike is the first to be held by the city’s employees in more than 40 years, according to the union. They are expected to rally in front of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles airport and City Hall on Tuesday morning before joining picket lines at various locations across the city.
Dae Levine, a spokesperson for the airport, said operations are expected to “continue as close to normal as possible,” though she urged travelers to be patient. “We ask our passengers to allow extra time to travel to and from the airport during the planned action,” she said.
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Another potential flashpoint is the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together form the largest container hub in the US and one of the region’s most important economic engines.
The strike is unlikely to have a major impact on cargo operations, since most of the workers who unload container ships belong to a different group, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. However, several hundred port employees who are members of SEIU Local 721 could join the strike, affecting administrative and maintenance functions. Dockworkers with the ILWU reached a tentative agreement at all 29 West Coast ports earlier this year, following a win for LA school district support staff.
“The Port of Los Angeles respects the fair bargaining rights of all employees,” spokesman Phillip Sanfield said in a statement. “With an anticipated job action, Port of Los Angeles officials are working closely with our customers and stakeholders to ensure that port operations continue uninterrupted.”
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