Facing a potential strike by city workers, Los Angeles officials have approved hiring non-union trash collectors and other outside contractors.

The Board of Public Works approved the authorization after city workers, members of the Service Employees International Union Local 721, on April 10 voted 86% in favor of a strike, according to an SEIU 721 press release. This includes engineers, tree trimmers, and others, in addition to trash collectors.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, at issue is salary raises and increased contributions to benefits.

SEIU's vote comes after almost a year of contract talks between union negotiators and city officials. Sticking points have included the city's demands that workers forgo raises for three years and contribute more to their retirement costs and healthcare premiums. Many coalition workers now pay no premiums.

The Los Angeles Board of Public Works made the authorization official at a special meeting April 13, voting on a request from Bureau of Sanitation Director Enrique Zaldivar, in which he stated that his department would not be able to perform its essential functions in the event of a "significant job action."

Although the move prepares the Public Works Department to continue to function during a strike, officials told City News Service that they're still optimistic an agreement can be reached. According to a City News Service article posted on Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch:

Public Works Commissioner Matt Szabo, who is part of bargaining discussions with city workers, said he hoped contractors will not be needed to perform sanitation jobs ... “This action today we have to take because we are ultimately responsible to the residents of this city, and when there are messages out there that say that a strike could be called at any time, we have to be prepared for that,” Szabo said.

Szabo added that “this is not a signal that we believe we will ever need to use it,” and said her believes “we can move forward in a productive way and avoid any work stoppage working together.”