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Contract talks stalled for half of L.A.'s city workers; protests underway

Coalition of L.A. City Unions holds early news conference, urges 10-minute work stoppage today

Unions representing roughly 20,000 Los Angeles municipal employees have begun a day of citywide demonstrations to draw attention to stalled contract talks.

The Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which bargains on behalf of more than half the city's civilian workforce, held a news conference at dawn Tuesday with garbage-truck drivers outside the Mission Road sanitation yard and encouraged employees in a wide array of departments to engage in a 10-minute work stoppage Tuesday.

The protests result from a stalemate in negotiations with the city over a new contract for employees represented by the coalition. In recent weeks, Mayor Eric Garcetti has signaled that he intends to hold the line on several key concessions the city's bargaining team is seeking from labor.

Among the city's demands are a three-year freeze on raises, reductions to pensions, reduction in pay for workers on injury leave and a requirement that employees pay 10% of their healthcare premiums. (Currently many pay no premiums.)

In an interview Tuesday morning, one union leader said the mayor's stance is at odds with his "back to basics" agenda of improving basic city services such as road paving and trash collection.

Such functions require adequately funded public employees and good working conditions, said Gilda Valdez, chief of staff for Service Employees International Union Local 721, a coalition union that represents about 10,000 workers.

"We want to support the mayor. We want to help him get back to basics," Valdez said. "But that means he has to help restore the services in our communities."

She added that she was disappointed that ordinarily secret bargaining-room details had been reported on by the L.A. Times and commented on by the mayor. Valdez declined to discuss any of the specific sticking points in contract talks.

She said she was going to "do something that the mayor didn't do" -- respect the confidentiality of the process.

District 14 Councilman Jose Huizar, who is running for reelection, appeared at the sanitation-yard rally, mingling with several dozen workers who gathered for the event before beginning their morning garbage-truck routes.

Although he expressed support for the workers in general terms, Huizar would not say whether he agreed with the city's specific bargaining demands. Huizar will vote on the coalition's next contract if he remains on the City Council.

"I really can't comment on the negotiations," he said. "I am here today to support the overall message that we need to invest in basic services."

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