Under heavy lobbying from both sides and apparently still gunshy from this week's embarrassing City Council override, Mayor Richard Riordan said Friday that he would not veto a precedent-setting job protection ordinance opposed by his philosophical allies in the business community.
The measure, which cleared the council on a 10-2 vote last month, is aimed at helping privately employed service workers keep their jobs when city contracts change hands. It would require a new contract-holder to retain the workers of its predecessor for at least 90 days, then offer them permanent employment if their work was satisfactory.
Proposed in the wake of the mass firings of about 300 workers when several food concession contracts changed hands at Los Angeles International Airport a few months ago, the measure was hailed by labor leaders and the liberal-leaning council. They called it a groundbreaking step to protect thousands of the lowest-rung workers whose private employers profit from their business with the city.
With the mayor's grudging decision to let the measure become law without his signature, Los Angeles is making a major change in its relationship with the firms with which it does business and is signaling that it intends to look out for their employees as well as its own.
Compared with other job protection measures gaining favor in other parts of the nation, Los Angeles' measure is modest. But it has drawn opposition from business leaders and others who believe it runs counter to the mayor's--and their--goals to make the city more attractive to business and make its operations more efficient and less cumbersome.
In a two-page letter to the council released hours before the veto deadline passed, Riordan detailed his many objections to the measure and said he had instructed staff to work with the council "to determine if the ordinance can be amended to alleviate these concerns."
He cited questions about the measure's legality--especially as it applies to the semi-independent Airport, Harbor, and Water and Power departments. He also said that the measure would interfere with efforts to boost the city's sagging economy by attracting new employers to the area and that the burden would fall especially heavily on nonprofit providers of social services.
"I am convinced that there are a number of alternative approaches available to achieve the council's objectives while avoiding these undesirable consequences," Riordan wrote.
His decision to let the ordinance stand nonetheless was viewed by many as evidence that the mayor realized he did not have the 10 votes needed to fend off a veto override like the one he suffered earlier this week with the stunning 15-0 repudiation of his veto of a south Los Angeles housing and commercial project.
"I think he is coming to grips with the reality of governing in this city," said Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the jobs protection ordinance and the vetoed project that led to Riordan's face-losing showdown with the council.
"His attempt to flex his muscles is not the way to do business here," said Ridley-Thomas, who has been the mayor's most vocal council critic.
Several City Hall insiders said the mayor, encouraged by business leaders, sounded out several council members and found that he had little hope of avoiding another veto override.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, head of the Personnel Committee, along with a coalition of labor and tourism leaders, lobbied Riordan not to veto the measure. Goldberg said she promised the businessman-turned-mayor that her committee would consider ways to make the measure more acceptable to him.
Councilman Richard Alatorre, the mayor's closest council ally, also urged him not to veto the ordinance.
The law represents "a major change for the city," Goldberg said. "It's a big step. It will affect a lot of people, and I'm willing to look at" Riordan's amendment proposals.
But she made it clear that she agrees with the measure's basic premise--that workers whose firms get taxpayer support in any form are entitled to the same consideration as city employees when it comes to keeping jobs they have performed well for some time.
Some of the business leaders who lobbied for a veto said Friday that they were disappointed but understood the reality of City Hall politics.
"We still think it is a very flawed policy, but at least we have an opportunity to raise the issues. . . . We are pleased that Jackie Goldberg has been willing to hear our concerns and agreed to look at them," said Carol Schatz, head of the Central City Assn., a downtown business lobbying group.
Ray Remy, leader of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said his group believes the ordinance "does serve as an impediment for meeting some of the mayor's key goals, which we believe are essential."
He cited the mayor's often-stated promises to make the city more attractive to business, to increase contracting with private firms if it produces greater efficiencies and cost savings and to make city operations more efficient.
Labor representatives were thrilled with the mayor's decision.
"It's wonderful and exciting," said Madeline Janis-Aparicio of the Tourism Industry Development Council, the coalition that pushed for the measure.