Non-union Los Angeles County employees, from secretaries all the way up to department heads, on Friday blasted a plan by the Board of Supervisors to cut their pay by 5% to help ease a continuing fiscal crisis, saying they will fight back with protests, lawsuits and any other action they can muster.
The supervisors voted 4 to 1 Thursday to begin the process of implementing the pay cut for about 9,000 non-union personnel as a way of saving the county $10.7 million this year. Such pay cuts cannot be imposed on the county's 77,000 or so union workers unless it is written into their collective bargaining agreements, which are being negotiated.
In the midst of the furor over the pay cut proposal, the supervisors received good news when Moody's Investors Service, a major Wall Street rating agency, said the county's financial situation shows signs of stabilizing after a federal bailout spared severe cuts in its troubled health system.
After downgrading the credit rating on most of the county's debt in August, Moody's said it would hold the ratings steady while closely monitoring the county's financial situation.
Moody's praised the supervisors for refusing to accept a $100-million loan from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and for taking other steps to ease an unprecedented fiscal crisis. "This is a marked change from the county's approach in prior years when it frequently resorted to loans, expenditure deferrals and revenue shifting to balance its budget," Moody's said.
As non-union secretaries prepared to wear black next week in protest of the planned pay cuts and an association of deputy district attorneys began recruiting non-union county employees into their informal union, at least one department head sharply and publicly criticized salary cuts.
Harry W. Stone, director of the vast Public Works Department, said the pay cuts would unfairly single out non-union workers, who already have borne the brunt of the county's financial problems, forgoing raises in the last three years while their unionized counterparts received pay hikes.
"As your director of Public Works, I must express my strong opposition to the board action," Stone wrote in a letter to each supervisor, adding that the non-union workers are not compensated for huge amounts of overtime and weekend work as union workers are.
"Instead of remedying the problem, Thursday's action further compounds this unfairness," Stone said. "We now have union workers out-earning their supervisors. We have non-represented secretaries and administrative staff making less than $40,000 per year taking a 5% cut while union employees earning more than $75,000 per year take no hits."
Noting that some county union workers received as much as 9% raises in the last three years, Stone called on supervisors to "condition any cuts for non-represented employees on acceptance of equivalent pay cuts by union employees."
Late Friday, secretaries and support staff who work for the county supervisors on the eighth floor of the county Hall of Administration circulated a letter saying they would wear black on Tuesday as a show of solidarity and to protest the pay cuts. A self-styled "militant" union of deputy district attorneys said Friday it planned to do much more than that. Herbert R. Lapin, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, said in an angry letter to the supervisors that his group would fight the proposed pay cut by organizing other county employees and filing lawsuits.
Supervisor Deane Dana was the only board member to oppose the pay cut Thursday, saying it would create a backlash and engender support for county unions that the county could not financially or politically afford.
Lapin told the supervisors that their efforts to save money through the pay cut has done just what Dana feared--"The complete cooperation of all unrepresented county units."
Lapin had particularly unkind words for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who promoted the plan to cut non-union workers' pay. "The unrepresented units of this county will do whatever they can to attempt to make him a one-term supervisor because of the underhanded way he introduced this pay cut," Lapin said. "We believe the way this pay cut was introduced may be illegal and will pursue any and all legal remedies we may have."
In an interview, Yaroslavsky acknowledged the pay cut was a "bitter pill," but said it was necessary to help the county ease the budget crisis. He also said he would support a similar pay cut for union workers.
The decision by the board to go after the pay of those without union protection could open a bitter rift between those county workers who are represented by unions and those who are not.
Although the county has not finished its current labor negotiations with most of its unions, it has reached agreement with 3,200 union workers--from mechanics and building tradesmen to dentists and psychiatrists--that provide for no pay raise this year but forbid the county from cutting their salaries without reopening the contracts.
Gilbert Cedillo, general manager of the Service Employees International Union, Local 660, said his union will oppose the pay cut, especially since it was introduced three months into the bargaining process.
Times staff writer Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this article.