LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Members of the union representing thousands of Los Angeles County workers have voted to authorize a strike if labor talks fail to progress, the union announced Friday.

Service Employees International Union Local 721 represents roughly 55,000 county employees in a range of areas, including health care, social services, mental health services, public works, parks and public safety. The vote does not mean a strike will automatically occur, but authorizes the union to call one if contract negotiations stall.

The union is in the midst of contract talks with the county, saying it is pushing for higher wages, protection against privatization of jobs and improved health benefits. The union's contract with the county expired at the end of March.

Union President David Green told reporters more talks are scheduled "bright and early Monday morning."

Strike-authorization votes are standard moves during prolonged labor negotiations, leveraging union influence on the talks. The union has held a series of large-scale rallies in downtown Los Angeles in recent weeks.

The county Board of Supervisors approved a motion this week aimed at ensuring services are not disrupted at county hospitals or care facilities if workers do walk off the job. The motion authorized the director of the Department of Health Services to take steps needed to prevent any interruption in "essential services to some of the county's most vulnerable residents."