Salary deal struck by Bass would give L.A. city workers seven raises by July 2028

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, accompanied by her team, presents her first city budget during a news conference in April.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass presents her first city budget in April. She supports a plan to give civilian city employees seven raises by July 2028.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Thousands of Los Angeles city workers are on track to receive a package of raises that would exceed 24% over five years, a deal similar to one that contributed to one of the city’s most wrenching budget crises more than a decade ago.

The new pay proposal, negotiated last month by Mayor Karen Bass, would award seven cost-of-living increases between April 2024 and July 2028 to workers represented by the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, according to summaries circulated by union leaders.

The proposal, which requires a union ratification vote and approval from the City Council, also would give workers the ability to cash out 100% of their unused sick time when they retire, up from 50%. And it would hike the minimum pay of coalition workers — many of them part-time employees —to $25 per hour by 2026, union officials said.


“The feedback I’ve gotten from our members is that they’re enthusiastically going to vote yes on this, because it is the best deal that city workers have ever gotten,” said David Green, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721, one of the coalition’s six unions.

The mayor’s spending plan for the coming year includes a key strategy for rebuilding the LAPD: persuading 200 recently retired officers to come back.

April 18, 2023

The terms of the salary proposal bear some resemblance to a public employee contract negotiated in 2007 by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — one he later described as a mistake. That deal, also reached with the coalition, delivered salary increases of nearly 25% over five years.

The 2007 coalition deal was finalized shortly before the onset of the Great Recession, which brought a slowdown in tax proceeds and rapid growth in public employee retirement costs. The coalition contract’s increased salary obligations further widened the city’s massive budget gap.

Over several tumultuous years, city leaders imposed furloughs and eliminated thousands of city positions, including some through layoffs. They also secured concessions from the coalition, such as the postponement of some raises and larger employee healthcare contributions.

Before leaving office in 2013, Villaraigosa voiced regret over his support for the salary agreement, saying it had been the biggest mistake of his eight-year administration.

Villaraigosa declined comment when reached by The Times. Bass, in an interview, said the financial conditions facing the city are different from those that existed during Villaraigosa’s tenure.


If the city experiences a major economic downturn, it will have a larger pool of reserve funds to cushion the blow, Bass said. At the same time, city workers are facing much higher inflation than they did during the Great Recession, a situation that warrants cost-of-living increases that can keep workers from seeking employment elsewhere, she said.

“We have a quality workforce now. We want to retain that workforce,” she said.

Jack Humphreville, who volunteers with the city’s Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, had a more skeptical view, warning that Bass and the council are repeating the mistakes of the past. To pay for the upcoming raises, the council will almost certainly have to shrink the size of the workforce, depriving the public of needed city services, he said.

“You want [city workers] to be paid well. But you just also want to make sure you’re getting the bang for your buck, and I don’t think we are,” he said.

The City Council met Friday behind closed doors to receive an update on the contract talks.

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo, who worked for Villaraigosa in 2007 and is now the city’s top budget analyst, said he does not yet have a precise figure for the cost of the new coalition contract, since portions are still being negotiated. But he confirmed that the cost of the planned salary increases, combined with changes in healthcare benefits, would likely exceed $100 million in the agreement’s first full fiscal year.

Asked if the budget can absorb the proposed increases, Szabo said the city would take “all necessary measures” to ensure the budget is balanced and “resilient to recession.”


Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who heads the council’s powerful budget committee, said he expects that city leaders will need to eliminate some vacant city positions to help cover the cost of the coalition deal.

“You can’t make the numbers work, paying people more, and have the same number of positions. That’s just math,” he said. “But the magnitude of all that, we’ll figure that out.”

Blumenfield said he expects the upcoming contract will force city leaders to refocus on the city’s “core responsibilities.”

The coalition contract is being finalized amid a major labor shortage at City Hall, with 1 out of every 6 positions vacant last fall, according to a city controller’s analysis. Some offices, such as the Bureau of Street Services and the Recreation and Parks Department, had vacancies of more than 20% last fall, the analysis said.

Bass is scheduled to release her next budget proposal in April. That spending plan will also need to make room for new raises and bonuses approved last year for about 9,000 officers represented by the Los Angeles Police Protective League. That contract is expected to add $400 million to the city’s annual budget by 2027 — a fact that drew criticism from three of the council’s 15 members.

The Coalition of L.A. City Unions represents 24,000 full- and part-time city workers, including clerks, mechanics, custodians, gardeners and an array of other nonsworn city positions. About 8,000 of those are part-time, with about a third of the part-timers working in a given year, Szabo said.


Green, the SEIU president, said his union is still determined to make sure vacant positions are filled at City Hall. And he dismissed the idea that the proposed salary agreement would create budget problems, saying “the city can afford it.”

The city’s budget experts have already voiced support for the contract terms, Green said.

“That tells me this is a financially feasible deal,” he said.

The five-year salary proposal comes several months after the SEIU staged a one-day walkout at City Hall. In recent months, the union had been setting the stage for a second.

That showdown never happened. Instead, Bass agreed to participate in “intensive bargaining,” bargaining with coalition leaders until 3 a.m. at the Bonaventure Hotel last month, Green said.

If approved by union members and the council, the new salary agreement would remain in effect until well after the next mayoral election in 2026. Perhaps more critically, it would expire in December 2028, after the staging of the Olympic Games that year in Los Angeles.

Bass said the Olympics were not a factor in the decision to negotiate a five-year contract. At the same time, she said, the timing would provide some benefit.


“It would be very difficult to be in labor negotiations when we are hosting more leaders from around the world than have ever happened before, and when the spotlight of the world is on L.A.,” she said. “But that was not a factor.”