Los Angeles' police officers on Friday secured a tentative contract agreement that would raise their pay by 8.2% over the next four years, the most generous package of concessions Mayor Eric Garcetti's administration has offered an employee union.
If approved by union members and the City Council, the added pay and benefits — including increased healthcare subsidies and larger uniform allowances for nearly 10,000 officers — would cost $157 million.
Garcetti campaigned on a promise to reduce organized labor's influence at City Hall. He and other city leaders have argued for delaying employee raises until the city is on sounder financial footing.
The tentative agreement with the Los Angeles Police Protective League seems to mark an adjustment to that position, one that could complicate ongoing negotiations with other unions.
The Coalition of LA City Unions, which represents more than half the city's civilian workforce, has been fighting for pay increases in talks that have dragged on for almost a year.
"It opens the window of argument for other unions at the negotiating table," said Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A.
The deal comes after union members rejected a previous tentative contract in July. The proposal was endorsed by union leaders but only included raises for a small number of low-salaried officers.
"I don't think either side wanted this to drag on any longer," league President Craig Lally said. "Crime is up. Morale is down. We needed to move forward."
Lally described the new proposed contract as one in which both sides had given ground. "I would have preferred a raise immediately," he said. "We're not getting anything for two years. I think we're actually helping the mayor quite a bit. We get that we have to do our part and our part is taking zero for the first two years."
Union officials say that the city's pay scale created problems in recruiting and retaining officers, who have been lured away by more lucrative jobs at other Southern California law enforcement agencies.
City officials have also had to contend with rank-and-file officers' resentment over a generous contract signed with the coalition's civilian employees in 2007. That deal gave a 24.5% raise over several years to 20,000 clerks, janitors, tree trimmers and other workers. Police officers' total pay raise during the same period was about 14%.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the city's lead negotiator in labor talks, said the coalition's pay increase created a "distortion in the way raises have been given."
A coalition spokesman declined to comment.
Garcetti has preached austerity and persuaded other labor groups, including the powerful union that represents Department of Water and Power workers, to accept contracts that included no or far smaller pay increases. Last month, Garcetti expressed reluctance to grant raises to city employees.
"There's nothing I'd like to do more than give workers a raise and even expand benefits," he said in an interview with The Times. "But we can only spend what we have."
Santana has also warned that the city needs to hold the line on city employees' wages and pension costs to eliminate recurring budget deficits. He said Friday that the proposed police raises have been structured to minimize strain on city coffers.
The first raise of 4% will not take effect until July 2016, followed by 2% raises in July 2017 and January 2018. By then, Santana said, city revenues should have improved with the reviving economy.
Santana also noted that the city's contribution to officers' health premiums will rise by a fixed amount of $60 per employee each year, limiting the city's financial risk if healthcare costs surge upward unexpectedly.
Jeff Millman, a spokesman for the mayor, echoed those arguments, saying in an email that the tentative contract included "no short term raises." He added that the city's contracts for firefighters and utility workers have already improved the city's credit ratings and will free up money for increased city services.
It remains to be seen how the tentative police contract could affect the stalled contract talks with civilian employee unions. City officials have taken a harder bargaining stance with those groups, arguing for no new raises and larger employee contributions to medical premiums. The city currently pays the full premium for many civilian employees.
Santana said that the tentative deal with officers shouldn't be read as a softening of the city's stance in talks with civilian workers. The previous 24.5% raise they received reduces their ability to justify additional pay increases akin to those being offered to cops, he said.
"It's not an apples-to-apples comparison," Santana said.