- RL Intern
By Benjamin Garcia, RLn Reporter
On Sept. 19, the words “Mr. Mayor/ Back to Earth/ Pay your workers/ What they’re worth” and other chants were heard as marchers equipped with posters, buttons, noise-making tools and a one loud megaphone passed from Pepper Tree Plaza to the Port of Los Angeles as a response to:
- A freeze on healthcare benefit contributions
- Salaries that fail to keep pace with L.A.’s rising cost of living
- Understaffed services resulting in close calls with serious accidents
Gathering at noon, protesters affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) demonstrated the need for adequate compensation for public workers.
Before the march began, Environmental Monitoring Division Senior Chemist Stacee Karnya said, “The City of Los Angeles is currently in negotiations with its employees (the coalition of city unions), we are out here today because the negotiations are at a stall.”
She expanded on her statement saying that the city’s offer is unacceptable because it doesn’t account for the rate of inflation. The city is trying to “burden” the employees with healthcare costs.
Karnya went into greater detail saying, “[There is already a cost associated with] whichever healthcare plan employees choose, but the city is trying to dump a 10 percent premium level; and they are trying to create a two-tiered system where they treat new employees differently.”
She wrapped up by adding that a lot of city workers run the largest port in North America; many goods come through the port; the coalition wants to keep it running and it wants to keep employees healthy and happy.
Victor Cuevas, Communications Specialist at SEIU Local 721, stated that the Port of Los Angeles and the San Pedro waterfront area was chosen for the demonstration precisely because of its great importance to the City of Los Angeles and the regional economy.
He added, “POLA, in particular, has a very diverse workforce that maintains its facilities and keep the port thriving. Today’s march included workers from POLA — engineers and architects, sanitation trash truck drivers and chemists who ensure our local waters stay clean.”
Jose Franceschi, a city gardener and caretaker, who attended the rally described the energy of the demonstration as exciting. He added, “We needed something to impact the City of Los Angeles and let them know we’re serious.”
He explained that he, along with the rest of the union, is serious about wanting a fair contract.
“The City of Los Angeles and the city administrative officer are backing-up on their promises from when we first got hired,” Franceschi stated. Nearby, a friend and co-worker, Salvador Chavez, added that he thinks it’s vital for the news media to pay attention.
Franceschi concluded saying that all the union wants is to be treated with respect and to be given the opportunity to meet the costs of living.
Union spokesperson, Coral Itzcalli, later told Random Lengths News that after the great recession took full effect in 2007, services in The City of Los Angeles were drastically cut. According to the spokesperson, city workers did everything they could to help the financial stability of the city.
“Workers understood that their units and teams would be cut by a lot and people rolled up their sleeves and did what had to be done,” Itzcalli said, continuing, “All of this was done with the explicit understanding that the city staffing would be restored once the economy improved.”
The economy didn’t improve as quickly as workers hoped; still, according to Itzcalli, a large amount of development took place in Los Angeles. What didn’t develop was the restoration of better staffing for the city and new positions.
In 2015, the Los Angeles City Council passed a measure establishing a goal of adding 5,000 new workers by summer of 2018, as part of a legal settlement. However, former City Administrative Officer, Miguel Santana, has repeatedly said that the 5,000 hiring target is a goal, not a commitment or an obligation.
Sylvia Alvarado, who went inside the Port of Los Angeles building with the letter to the mayor, said that service jobs being understaffed is bad for morale.
“There are people doing three peoples’ jobs. The city keeps telling us, ‘Yes we are going to hire people.’ I’ve been here for seven years and I’m still waiting.”
She said that another objective of the protest was to not have medical bills eat into city employees’ paychecks.
As a member of the bargaining team for SEIU, Alvarado stated, “A lot of us here in the City of Los Angeles already live paycheck-to-paycheck. Paying 10 percent of our medical costs is going to set us back.”
Alvarado shared that she has been impacted by medical issues, she is 56 years old and wants to make sure that her medical expenses will be taken care of. She added that city workers are injured often — citing emptying trash cans, trimming trees on ladders and beautifying parks takes “a lot of elbow grease.”
She concluded, saying that the Harbor Department is her home. The city workers beautify parks, maintain streets and put on community events. They want a good contract to feel good living and working in San Pedro.
Franceschi started saying “We want to tell the public that,” Chavez finished, saying “¡Si, se puede!”
The Los Angeles County supervisors agreed to fully-paid health and dental, as well as a 10.75 percent salary increase (plus $1,000 bonus) across the board.