L.A. rolls back its plan for furloughing city workers, hoping for new federal aid
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and 10 of the city’s public employee unions have struck another deal to delay the city’s furlough program, leaving workers with just one unpaid day off before the end of the year, according to a memo issued last week.
The City Council approved a plan last month to force more than 15,000 city workers to take one unpaid day off every two weeks — effectively a 10% pay cut — as part of a larger effort to balance the budget. But last week, Garcetti and the city’s bargaining committee changed course, signing off on an alternative cost-cutting strategy that would eliminate all but one unpaid day off until at least January.
Under the new proposal, a larger group of civilian workers would take a day off without pay on Nov. 3, which is election day, followed by a second unpaid day in April. Civilian employee unions also agreed to delay of a planned payment of unused sick time, which is normally given to workers in January.
In exchange, thousands of workers would receive a new floating holiday for the fiscal year that ends on June 30, according to the proposal.
Garcetti aides said the proposal, which is aimed at saving $21.4 million and still needs council approval, will give them more time to determine whether Congress will provide new financial help to cities reeling financially in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. By January, city officials also will know whether the city’s tax revenues continue to be weak, they said.
“The deal enables us to keep city services and programs intact until we have a clearer picture of how exactly the pandemic is impacting revenues, and what additional assistance we might get from Washington,” said Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar.
City Administrative Officer Rich Llewellyn, the city’s top budget official, expressed some optimism about the prospects of more federal aid, in an email to council offices last week outlining the union deal.
“On the hopeful front, Speaker Pelosi says to stand by for a further bail out. So I am STANDING BY!” he wrote.
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Still, Jack Humphreville, co-chairman of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, called the city’s latest deal “fiscally irresponsible,” saying it will do little to address a shortfall ranging from $200 million to $400 million.
Requiring only two unpaid days off, while also giving workers a new holiday, “just doesn’t go anywhere near eliminating the deficit for this fiscal year, to say nothing of the next fiscal year,” said Humphreville, whose group watches over city spending.
Neither Garcetti nor union leaders would characterize the two unpaid days as furloughs, describing them simply as days off without pay. Mike Long, a spokesman for Service Employees International Union Local 721, drew a distinction between furloughs demanded by management and unpaid days off volunteered by workers.
Furloughs imposed by management are not permitted under SEIU Local 721’s contract with the city, Long said.
“We understand that the city is in a financial bind due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we have engaged in good faith efforts to help the city save money,” he said in an email. “As part of those efforts we agreed to take two unpaid days off.”
The agreement is the only latest sign that Garcetti and the council are pushing off personnel expenses until the next fiscal year. In July, they authorized buyouts of up to $80,000 for workers who retire. Although those workers are already starting to leave their jobs, the vast majority of the bill for that program won’t come due until 2021-22.
Under the new agreement, the unions’ $6.2-million payment of unused sick time would be pushed back to January 2022, moving another expense to the next fiscal year.
Garcetti had originally called for furloughs in April, after the city was plunged into a financial crisis sparked by coronavirus and the accompanying shutdown of businesses and tourism. Hotel taxes, sales taxes and other sources of revenue came in far below projections, just as the city was scheduled to give raises to police officers, firefighters and workers in the Coalition of L.A. City Unions.
Coalition workers are set to receive a 2% increase in January followed by another in June. Police officers received a 1.5% raise in July and will see another 3.25% in January. Firefighters received a 4.75% pay hike in July.
Garcetti has advised city department heads to begin preparations for a “potential layoff scenario,” by identifying positions for possible elimination. The council also cut $150 million from the LAPD, putting $40 million of those savings in a fund to avoid furloughs of civilian workers for at least two months.
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