LA workers strike: What is Mayor Karen Bass’ role?

SEIU Local 721 members march with protest signs outside LA City Hall, August 8, 2023. Photo by Megan Jamerson/KCRW

More than 11,000 LA city workers are on strike today, including sanitation workers, traffic officers, gardeners, lifeguards, and custodians. They’re members of Service Employees International Union Local 721, and the one-day walkout comes as the unit protests what it describes as unfair labor practices. In a statement, Mayor Karen Bass said public safety and housing services will continue during the strike, and that the city will continue bargaining in good faith. 

Before today, Bass has stayed neutral in other labor negotiations, including those involving LAUSD staff and Hollywood actors and writers. But now, as a city leader, she’s directly involved in these conversations, says Lara Korte, California state politics reporter and co-author of the California Playbook at Politico. 

As a result, Bass has more at stake due to her duty to her constituents: “Although this is just a 24-hour strike, I think it's meant to send a message to city leaders that they're willing to have an impact on the day-to-day activities of the city,” Korte says. “That’s somewhere Karen Bass needs to lead. People expect her to handle these kinds of conflicts that affect the city writ large.” 

Bass’ approach to negotiations around the city are a departure from previous LA leaders, including former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Korte says he would step in and offer to mediate — partly due to his background in union organizing.

Korte points out that organized labor is a powerful interest group in California politics, and Bass has historically received support from them. She’s in a tough balancing act. 

“Karen Bass has always been a friend of labor. They have no issues with her. But also, as a public official, your job is to make sure that the city doesn't go bankrupt, to make sure that there is no undue harm caused to the major industries that support jobs and workers and life in Los Angeles.”



  • Lara Korte - Politico reporter covering California politics