Unions offer plan to avoid layoffs of L.A. city workers


Days before Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled to release his plan for balancing the budget, a coalition of labor groups said Thursday that it had found a way to cut $432 million without resorting to layoffs.

The Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents about 22,000 workers, said the city could erase its projected shortfall if it pursued a series of recommendations for the fiscal year that starts July 1, including a halt to hiring at the Los Angeles Police Department.

Deputy Mayor Ben Ceja said this week that Villaraigosa plans to keep hiring enough officers next year to replace those who resign or retire. The coalition opposed that idea, saying public safety is also provided by agencies that are being targeted for cuts.

“Public safety means libraries that are open after school, parks that keep kids busy and fire services that respond to an emergency,” said Julie Butcher, regional director of Service Employees International Union Local 721, which is part of the coalition.

An LAPD hiring freeze would save $7.7 million, Butcher said. Other proposals include early retirement for 363 city workers, higher fees for ambulance service and dog licenses, collecting on $38.2 million in outstanding debts and spreading out investment losses in a city pension fund over 10 years instead of five.

One mayoral aide said some of the union proposals are overly optimistic about the amount of money that could be generated.

“The mayor’s always open to constructive solutions from labor,” said Villaraigosa Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo. “But he also must operate within the realm of reality.”

Under its contract, coalition members would automatically receive $32.2 million in raises if its members were laid off. That money could be saved if no layoffs occur, the coalition said.

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said the upcoming budget already assumes that the pay increases will occur.

“We cannot balance the budget without layoffs,” he said. “There has to be a permanent reduction in the workforce.”

The exchange occurred hours before the Department of Water and Power board voted in favor of a rate increase endorsed by the City Council.

That increase, which would go into effect July 1, would prompt the DWP to transfer $73.5 million to the city’s budget.