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Engineers, Architects Strike Out on Picket Lines

Times Staff Writer

It was not exactly a Norma Rae moment.

Over two days in late August, striking workers from the Engineers and Architects Assn. picketed City Hall demanding a better pay raise than the 6.25% the city was offering them over the next three years.

Their average annual salary is about $74,500.

The union represents accountants, among others, and that should tell you something about the feistiness, or lack of it, on the picket lines. In other words, workers locked arm-in-arm and singing were in short supply.

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When I visited the lines outside City Hall at 10 a.m. on Day One of the strike, about 200 to 300 city employees were marching, 100 or so were sitting and five union members -- who wouldn’t provide their names -- were openly contemplating the structural qualities of a female television reporter’s backside.

It was difficult to tell if they were the engineers or the architects.

And that leads to the first question....

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Question: What else is interesting about working conditions the union must endure?

Answer: That they tend to get a lot of paid time off -- much like the rest of the city’s workforce, about 98% of which is unionized. Among some of the benefits of working for the city are:

* Eleven vacation days after one year on the job. After five years, it’s 17 days.

* Twelve fully paid sick days each year in addition to five more at three-quarters pay.

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* Up to 14 paid holidays.

* A decent chance of spending a little extra time at work each day in order to work four days either every other week -- or each week.

Although an extreme example, a five-year city employee who is on the four-day workweek plan and who accrues overtime, may only have to come to the office 140 to 160 days a year.

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Q: Is that kind of time off excessive?

A: Not necessarily, said Royce Menkus, an assistant city administrative officer.

“It is a fair amount of time off, but those kind of benefits are pretty standard” in government,” Menkus said. “I know that we’re not out of line with others. I’m not sure how different it is than with big companies that have generous benefits.”

I look forward to your e-mails on the generosity of your private sector jobs.

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As for The Times, we get two weeks vacation for each of the first three years of work before it bumps to three weeks. We also get five sick days annually and six paid holidays with four floating holidays.

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Q: Is the city hiring?

A: The city is desperate for librarians and veterinarians.

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Q: Why did Kathy Riordan step down as Animal Services Commission president after less than five minutes?

A: A little misunderstanding.

At the Aug. 14 commission meeting, Riordan, the daughter of former Mayor Richard Riordan, was unanimously reelected to the presidency of the Animal Services Commission by her colleagues.

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She had previously told the mayor’s office she wouldn’t run again.

At one point during the proceedings, mayoral policy aide Jim Bickhart walked to the front of the room and handed Riordan a note saying, “Actively decline the nomination. Don’t play games.”

Riordan then declared she couldn’t serve as president, according to several witnesses, and another vote was taken.

This time fellow commissioner Tariq Khero won the right to run commission meetings. And, naturally, agency watchdogs -- who have countless issues with the way the department has been run over the years -- fished Bickhart’s note from the trash and began publicizing it as proof that the mayor’s office is meddling with the agency’s board.

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Riordan couldn’t be reached for comment. Ed Boks, the general manager of the animal services agency, said that Riordan had told him that she didn’t want to be president, but events overtook her.

“She’s so compassionate and passionate and sometimes things get out of reach quickly,” Boks said.

The mayor’s office declined comment.

“It’s like a soap opera that has been part of this department,” Khero said.

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“And these side issues keep becoming big issues. I’m just trying to keep my eyes on the prize and help the department cut down on the number of animals euthanized.”

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Q: What just happened to the political committee called Voters for Honesty and Integrity in Politics?

A: They’re facing an accusation of failing to be honest.

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The state Fair Political Practices Commission has accused the committee of failing to disclose political contributions to an independent campaign against assembly candidate Fabian Nunez in 2002.

The committee’s treasurer, Ricardo Torres II, could not be reached for comment.

Torres II was suspended by the State Bar of California for 30 days in 2002 for misusing a client’s trust account and not cooperating with its investigation.

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Q: Any news on the Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll front?

A: Mindful readers of this column will recall our recent plea with Councilman Dennis Zine -- a true Man of Appetites -- to get this column’s favorite candy bar, the Nut Roll, sold in Los Angeles.

Several readers suggested other candy bars were equally deserving.

The list included the discontinued Tom’s Peanut Butter Log, GooGoo Clusters and the Pearson’s Nut Goodie.

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Zine’s response: “I’ll try all of them.”

Meanwhile, another reader e-mailed to report that there is a stash of Nut Rolls at a mom-n-pop store in historic Highland Park.

“The council is a bit nutty but when they need a Pearson’s Nut Roll fix, just head to Highland Park’s own Galco’s Soda Pop Stop,” wrote Nicole Prossert.

She also mentioned that the store’s supply is now one short.

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Q: Why were there actually park benches in the park next to City Hall in late August?

A: Diligent readers may also recall this column griping earlier this summer that the nice little park next to City Hall lacks park benches -- something this column believes is beyond pathetic.

No one could offer an explanation, except for Councilman Tom LaBonge, who said the benches were removed years ago because they attracted the homeless.

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After the story ran, a single bench was installed in the park by the city. Then came the morning of Aug. 21 when six benches appeared on the park’s walkway. It actually looked like a real city park!

Not so fast. As it turns out, the benches were just props for Fox television’s new series “Vanished,” which was shooting in the park.

The benches were gone the next day.

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Q: How do I get my part of town fixed up?

A: Call a location scout.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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