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Gas Company Workers Enlist Occupy L.A. For Demonstration Downtown Today

Occupying L.A.
Occupying L.A.
Ed Carrasco

Updated at the bottom with a statement from the Gas Company. First posted at 12:18 p.m.

The rightblogosphere has been alight with conspiracy theories about who's behind the Occupy movement that has swept the nation.

And there have been some accusations here that if our city's all-powerful labor unions aren't actually instigating Occupy L.A., at they least they're trying to co-opt it.

The king-making L.A. County Federation of Labor isn't exactly running away from that characterization:

The umbrella organanization announced that Occupiers will join utility workers in a demonstration against the Gas Company and its parent SEMPRA (which also owns the blackout-afflicted SDG&E) on the eve of a possible strike against the utility.

The Fed says grocery store workers, which recently averted a major strike in Southern California, will also join in on the fun.


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The Federation:

Supporters will highlight the consumer protection and advocacy efforts of the gas workers in contrast to the Gas Company's priority to drive down middle class jobs.

The unions claim the Gas Company wants wage and benefit cuts. Workers already voted to authorize a strike but have yet to walk off as negotiations continue. A contract extension ends tomorrow, meaning workers will likely strike then if a deal isn't made or another extension isn't granted.

Federation chief Maria Elena Durazo was quick to tie the utility workers' struggle to the Occupy movement:

This [SEMPRA] is a company that averaged almost one billion dollars in profits over the last two years. They are a perfect example of the corporate greed the young people of Occupy L.A. are standing up to.

The action happens at 5 p.m. in Pershing Square (at the northwest corner of Fifth and Olive streets) downtown today.

Sounds like a classic case of 1 percenters against the other 99. What do you think?

Update: Southern California Gas Company sent us this statement:

Southern California Gas Company is continuing to negotiate with union leadership with the goal of achieving an agreement that is fair to employees, competitive with the market and sensitive to minimizing financial impacts on customers.

SoCalGas is offering the following:

· Wages. Employees represented by the union currently earn an average of $69,500 a year. The company is offering an 11.8 percent pay increase over a four-and-a-half year contract term, including compounding, bringing the average union employee salary to $77,701 by 2016.

· Medical Insurance. In addition, SoCalGas is offering to continue to pay 85 percent of the cost of each union employee's medical insurance and up to $1,000 per month toward medical insurance for retirees.

· Pension Plan. SoCalGas also proposes continuing to offer company-paid pension plans to all union employees. Our employees' pension and retiree medical plans are 100% funded by the company. Current employees will be grandfathered into the existing pension plan, with an enhanced pre-retirement death benefit that provides surviving spouses with 100 percent of the employee's accrued benefit. New employees will receive the same pension plan that we have offered to our executives for more than a decade. This defined pension plan has a shorter vesting period, is portable and provides better pre-retirement death protection. In addition, the catastrophic sickness allowance agreed to by employees in 2009 will continue.

We have taken many factors into account to develop a fair wage and benefit package for our union employees, including projections of increased medical coverage and other benefit costs. SoCalGas costs for employee benefits in 2012 are expected to be 19 percent higher than the cost of these same benefits in 2010. Many employers have asked their employees to share some of the burden of escalating benefit costs. The package we are offering is fair to all concerned.

We have negotiated in good faith with the union since we first sat down to talk on July 26. We urge union leadership to return to the negotiating table and look forward to achieving an agreement soon.

[@dennisjromero/djromero@laweekly.com]