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Concessions or layoffs, mayor tells L.A. unions

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday said unions representing city workers would need to make major concessions to avoid widespread layoffs, including possibly deferring raises, cutting work hours and paying more for retirement benefits.

The mayor told reporters that the city is expected to face a $530-million shortfall in the 2009-10 budget year and that 2,800 workers would be laid off unless the unions agree to “shared responsibility and shared sacrifice.” The mayor’s office is negotiating with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions and other bargaining units on ideas to cut costs.

“The road ahead will not be easy, but there are thousands of jobs at stake, thousands of families looking to us to do the right thing,” Villaraigosa said.

The mayor made a point to say that police officers and firefighters would be asked to make the same concessions as all other city workers, although he would exempt them from layoffs for public safety reasons: “Every department will participate. It’s the only way it’ll work.”

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Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul M. Weber was quick to attack the mayor’s proposal, specifically the idea of cutting every city employee’s workweek by one hour to save hundreds of jobs.

“We are disappointed that the mayor has fallen back on his promise to make public safety a top priority with his administration,” Weber said, adding that the cut would be equivalent to losing 250 officers from the nearly 10,000 on the force.

Villaraigosa’s spokesman, Matt Szabo, said the only reason nearly 10,000 officers are represented by the league is “because of the mayor’s steadfast commitment to police hiring even in the face of steep budget deficits.”

Barbara Maynard of the coalition, which represents 22,000 of the city’s estimated 36,000 employees, struck a more conciliatory tone than the police union: “We have been in discussions with the city for some time now, looking for ways to avoid layoffs and cuts to services,” she said.

“We are absolutely committed to maintaining city services.”

The unions have the power to reject any measure to cut pay or eliminate raises, since both are locked in by contract. Villaraigosa has the authority to lay off city workers, however.

Villaraigosa’s announcement -- which included a videotaped message to employees -- offers the first glimpse into his upcoming budget proposal, scheduled to be submitted to the City Council on April 20.

The mayor said his budget would include provisions for new public-private partnerships that could raise hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as cuts to programs. Villaraigosa is exploring whether to privatize the Los Angeles Convention Center and Los Angeles Zoo, and to sell but lease back city parking garages and meters, which could raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

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Even with that cost-cutting and additional revenue, the city still would be approximately $300 million short, he said. Villaraigosa said the “menu of options” he proposed to workers, including forgoing pay increases -- primarily cost-of-living raises -- could dramatically decrease the number of layoffs needed to balance L.A.'s budget.

He already has instructed the city’s personnel department to make preparations to lay off 400 workers.

Union officials are pushing for an early retirement program, and the mayor said that’s on the table as well. But he said his main goal was to cut costs without cutting services. A mass exodus of workers nearing retirement would probably affect city services.

The city’s top budget analyst, interim City Administrative Officer Raymond P. Ciranna, in February predicted that the city would face a $427-million budget shortfall in 2009-10, and $525 million in 2010-11. (The mayor’s office Monday predicted a shortfall of $530 million in 2009-10.)

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The budget gap would more than double in the next year because of investment losses in the city’s pension systems. The city is legally obligated to keep the systems solvent, which could cost $458 million in 2010-11 and $663 million in 2011-12. That expense would be on top of the city’s expected budget shortfalls.

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phil.willon@latimes.com


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