Municipal Union Bids for City Job


For the first time in Los Angeles history, a labor union for some city workers Wednesday bid against a private firm for a city contract.

In bidding for the building maintenance and security contract, Los Angeles City Employees Union Local 347 was signaling its eagerness to demonstrate that public employees can compete successfully with their private sector counterparts.

The union, which represents about 8,000 blue collar workers, said it can do a better--and probably cheaper--job of taking care of the Los Angeles Police Department’s recently opened training academy in Westchester, a contract intended to go to a private firm.


In a proposal submitted to the City Council’s Personnel Committee, the union dissected the private contractor’s $579,025 bid for a one-year contract and said it could give better service for $546,322. It did, however, call for an added $100,000 contingency fund to cover such unanticipated expenses as overtime or a need to contract for some of the work.

The name of the private firm was not available, nor was it clear whether the contract originally involved competitive bidding. The firm’s bid had been submitted to the committee for approval several months ago, but the union was given a chance to submit a competitive bid.

The committee endorsed the union’s proposal and sent it on to the full council. If it passes muster with the council and the mayor, it will become part of a fledgling movement nationwide as public employee unions look for ways to protect workers’ jobs and benefits in the face of calls to turn over public services to private contractors in hopes of saving money and improving services.

In Los Angeles, the calls for more private contracting have come from the highest level of municipal government. Mayor Richard Riordan, a successful businessman-lawyer who came into office in mid-’93 bent on contracting as a way to improve city services while cutting costs, has seen most of his early efforts to do so turned back by the City Council. He has said since then that has found instances in which city employees have done the best job possible, and favors keeping those employees on the job.

Local 347 saw an opportunity to take him at his word a few months ago when the Personnel Committee agreed that the union was entitled to be consulted before the contract was awarded and delayed the matter until the union could come up with its own offer.

“We’re very excited about this,” said Julie Butcher, Local 347’s staff director. “It’s true competition and true teamwork.”


The city Department of General Services and Police Department helped the union put together a proposal. The union agreed to broaden job classifications so workers can be shifted to tasks as they are needed and be given additional skills.

Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, committee chairwoman, praised the proposal as a potential model for other employee unions wanting to compete for city work that is being considered for private contracting.