A Los Angeles city councilman says it was "a total misuse of equipment and resources and personnel" for trash truck drivers to use city trucks in a downtown protest on Tuesday, calling it "one of the most embarrassing things" he's seen.
Dozens of city trash trucks slowly proceeded past City Hall on Tuesday, blaring their horns, as part of a demonstration against deals struck between the city and Wall Street banks. The rally was organized by the Fix LA Coalition, which includes labor unions, clergy and community groups.
On Wednesday, Councilman Bernard C. Parks said he wanted the Bureau of Sanitation to investigate and determine who was involved in the trash truck protest while on duty and what city equipment was used.
"Here we have trash trucks that show up, block up the entire area, keep private industry from going to work, in our city trucks and our city uniforms, on our city time and using our city fuel," Parks said at a City Council meeting Wednesday. "And these are the same people that just won a 20-something-million-dollar lawsuit."
Earlier this year, the city agreed to a $26-million payout to end a lawsuit lodged by trash truck drivers who said they were improperly barred from sleeping during their meal breaks. Their attorney said the drivers were in effect required to stay on duty -- without pay -- during meal breaks for nine years.
The Coalition of LA City Unions responded to Parks late Wednesday in a written statement from Alice Goff, president of one of its unions. She compared the trash truck drivers to "the brave Memphis sanitation workers ... who in 1968 took action alongside Dr. Martin Luther King."
City workers "raised awareness of the big banks that are gouging the City of Los Angeles to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars every year," Goff wrote. "As a result, bankers are getting richer, while our communities suffer from cuts in services and good middle-class jobs are lost."
"The drivers of those trucks brought much-needed attention to an appalling inequality that our city is funding, and I hope they keep making noise until we are truly heard and action is taken," Goff added.
The coalition earlier stated that sanitation workers made sure everyone's trash was picked up Tuesday. It did not immediately address concerns about using city trucks in the protest.
A memo issued Tuesday by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana to department heads said that using city vehicles and equipment for anything other than city business was not allowed, and that "any such use should be noted and followed up with appropriate action by each department."
Santana added that employees who did not report for work during the protest should be recorded as "absent without pay" unless they can provide "satisfactory proof of absence," such as a doctor's note.
Before Parks made his comments, sanitation bureau director Enrique Zaldivar told The Times that drivers were instructed to return to their routes "once we realized what was going on." Zaldivar said he had expected drivers taking part in the protest "to be shuttled in and not use the city trucks."
Any disciplinary action would be up to each worker's supervisor, Zaldivar said Tuesday. He could not be immediately reached Wednesday for additional comment. Parks said he wanted a report to "find out what they did to those employees."