Los Angeles County's five supervisors took a step Tuesday -- over the objections of labor groups -- toward approving a new set of rules that would require a four-fifths vote for any salary or benefit increases in union contracts.
The proposal by Supervisor Don Knabe was touted as a means to preserve the county's fiscal health, but unions decried it as an attempt to tie the hands of new supervisors who will take office after November's election.
"To bind a future board to 80%, make a majority get vetoed by a minority, is really an extreme case," Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721, told the officials. SEIU represents about half the county's more than 100,000 employees.
Schoonover told the board to "have a little faith in the voters that elect people to this body, think about how you would feel if you were coming into this board and this policy was being adopted before you got here, what kind of message would that send to you as a newly elected board member?"
Two longtime supervisors, Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, will retire at the end of the year, and county Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka is also retiring. Former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis won Molina's seat in the June primary, while former state legislator Sheila Kuehl and Kennedy family scion Bobby Shriver are headed to a run-off in November. Solis and Kuehl have received substantial support from labor.
Knabe said in an interview that the proposed policies were not intended to be "anti-labor" but to codify what the county has already been doing and "give the new board members a base to work from" while they learn the county system.
"I think it protects the new board members from the follies that go on in various county departments," he said.
Molina said the policies could prevent another period of fiscal crisis like the one the county went through in the mid-1990s.
"I think taxpayers, at the end of the day, want to have a stable fiscal policy in Los Angeles County that is not going to allow us to go through the turmoil that we went through in 1994," she said.
The supervisors voted unanimously to have county attorneys and staff review the policies and bring them back next month during supplemental budget talks for a vote.
Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.