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Unionized Employees Asking for Wage Increases and Other Benefits

The recent demonstration was described as an “informational picket.” It did not include a strike or a work stoppage of any kind.
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September 13, 2023
An informational picket with the unionized employees of several Jewish communal agencies was held Sept. 5. Photo by Ryan Torok

Disputes over two separate labor contracts prompted unionized employees of several Jewish communal organizations to stage a rally on Sept. 5 in front of the headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard, where they called for higher wages and improved health benefits.

One of the contracts affects approximately 75 non-management employees at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA).

The other contract is for about 30 employees at JVS SoCal, formerly known as Jewish Vocational Service.

Lilia Arbona, an art director at the L.A. Federation, serves as president of AFSCME Local 800, which represents Jewish communal and social services employees. At the recent rally, Arbona joined approximately 50 colleagues from various Jewish communal agencies.

According to Arbona, employees are asking for wage increases that keep pace with the rising cost of living. The L.A. Federation has offered wage increases that amount to a 3% increase in the first year, a 2.5% increase in the second year and a 2.5% increase in the third year. The employees’ current contract expired July 1 and was extended, Arbona said.

JVS SoCal management has proposed a 2% wage increase the first year, a 1.5% increase the second year and a 1.5% increase the third year.

Additionally, employees are seeking more affordable health benefits; a paid day off on Juneteenth; and increased comp time. Their proposals also address remote work issues, Arbona said.

The recent demonstration was described as an “informational picket.” It did not include a strike or a work stoppage of any kind. Employees marched and carried signs in front of the Federation’s offices, from noon-1 p.m., during their lunch hour. 

While current negotiations have yet to bear fruit, the two sides are expected to return to the bargaining table on Sept. 7, Arbona told the Journal.

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles CEO and President Rabbi Noah Farkas said the Federation respected the right of its employees to voice their proposals and was hopeful there’ll be progress ahead.

“They want to create energy around the negotiation, and they have every right to do so … We look forward to negotiating with them. We value unionized labor.”
– Rabbi Noah Farkas, Jewish Federation CEO and President

“There’s no impasse. We have no dispute. They want to create energy around the negotiation, and they have every right to do so. [Today] they didn’t disrupt business, they didn’t block anybody [from entering the building],” Farkas said. “We look forward to negotiating with them. We value unionized labor.”

Jeff Carr, CEO of JVS SoCal, said employees at JVS SoCal who are members of AFSCME Local 800 account for approximately 10-percent of the organization’s workforce. At JVS SoCal, they hold administrative roles including as office workers, support staff, receptionists, office managers, researchers, grant writers and case workers, among other positions.

Carr expressed confidence an agreement would be reached as negotiations continued. As a nonprofit that provides nonsectarian job training, career services and mentoring to diverse communities, including veterans and refugees, the organization’s ability to increase wages depends on its fundraising, he said.

“I’m confident we’ll arrive at a good place for everybody,” Carr said. “We have some constraints, but we want to support our employees. We want to get an agreement with them, and I’m confident we will.”

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