Nearly 7,000 Los Angeles County nurses reached a tentative labor agreement Thursday with the county, narrowly averting a three-day, unfair labor practice strike set to begin June 1.
The workers, represented by SEIU 721, forged an 11th-hour deal that calls for stronger job protections and less outsourcing of jobs at county hospitals and healthcare facilities, while also locking in competitive wages to retain nurses.
The strike would have affected the Department of Health Services, Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health in facilities throughout LA County.
Just weeks ago, in the lead-up to a flurry of around-the-clock contract negotiations, SEIU 721 members across all bargaining units authorized an unfair labor practice strike with 98% approval.
The union said a nursing walkout would have operations at LAC+USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center in Willowbrook, Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance and High Desert Regional Health Center in Lancaster.
In a statement issued Thursday, the county Department of Public Health said it’s “pleased that a tentative agreement has been reached with SEIU Local 721 that honors the contributions of healthcare workers and ensures continued quality patient care and essential pandemic response operations.”
The bargaining units for the nurses and agreeing nurses now will join with 26 other bargaining units and 48,000 additional SEIU 721-represented county workers who reached tentative labor agreements May 14. They will all vote on whether to ratify their agreement in early June.
The other county employees range from medical staff and social service employees to custodians and others employed through the county’s Parks & Recreation Department, the county library system and those working as non-sworn Sheriff’s Department employees.
Those workers were seeking cost-of-living raises, continued full healthcare coverage and an end to job outsourcing.
SEIU 721 President David Green said the nurses have made “incredible sacrifices on the frontline” during the COVID-19 pandemic and drove a hard bargain in negotiations.
“COVID joined our ranks, which were already being hit hard by years of underfunding for public healthcare,” he said. “Now, we’ve got a commitment to address this problem and we’ve got the power of our union to make sure the plan materializes.”
Green said the union is adamantly opposed to the county’s practice of outsourcing nursing jobs.
“We’ll have travel nurses working alongside our SEIU nurses, and sometimes they’re making more than our nurses,” he said. “So you might one nurse earning $2,000 more than the nurse right next to them. And it’s not just with nurses, it’s with other departments as well. That’s the county’s dirty little secret, and we want people to know about it.”
Green said the county should “in-source” more nursing jobs, rather than pulling in non-union nurses from other sources.
“They need to decrease the outsourcing and pay our nurses more,” he said. “We need better communication so we can go to the table with our managers and negotiate salary compensation and workloads. We’ve all been running on empty.”