Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday ordered his managers to impose 42 furlough days on city employees in four union groups after those workers rejected his proposal for cutting the budget shortfall.
Employee groups representing more than 6,300 full-time workers voted against the labor agreement that the mayor negotiated last month with leaders of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions. Balloting finished Tuesday.
The deal with the coalition was supposed to save $69 million in the coming fiscal year. Villaraigosa had promised employees who made a series of concessions — including a 4% reduction in pay and the postponement of three previously negotiated raises — that they would be rewarded with an end to furloughs that the city has used to avoid employee layoffs.
Without concessions from those four groups, and the city facing a $457-million shortfall, Villaraigosa said he would demand eight and a half weeks of unpaid days off from those workers between now and June 2012.
"Employees who failed to ratify the agreement are once again subject to furloughs, and those furloughs start today," he said.
Those who rejected the deal made up nearly one-third of the coalition's 19,000 members and 43% of its full-time workers, according to city officials. They included mechanics, park rangers, lifeguards, animal control officers and wastewater treatment plant workers.
Critics of the deal accused the mayor of punishing employees for rejecting his plan. And they warned that his furlough plan would jeopardize public safety by keeping at home such employees as city prosecutors, jail workers, airport security officers and 911 emergency operators.
"Does the mayor want to rethink his plan, or does he want to cause pain and suffering to the general public?" said Paul Castro, a 13-year city employee who writes for http://www.lacityworkers.com, a website that offered arguments against the agreement.
Voting on the contract by the union rank and file had been conducted over the last two weeks.
Villaraigosa heaped praise on the employees in the other 14 units that approved the pact, including librarians, recreation workers, part-time crossing guards, sanitation workers and administrative assistants.
Supporters of the contract said it would guarantee an important medical benefit for retired city workers, while opponents said the mayor could not be trusted to keep promises to avoid layoffs and furloughs.
Union leaders still have the option of seeking a second vote from the units that failed to ratify the deal.
The push to win approval has been complicated by the fact that the vast majority of workers — including sanitation workers, librarians, landscapers, street light maintenance crews, zookeepers and every employee at the city's harbor and airports — have been spared from taking unpaid days off either because they perform essential services or their positions are unaffected by the budget crisis.
Even after he ordered the new furloughs, the mayor could not say how many of the 6,300 workers would be exempted.
"What's important to understand is that there will be diminished services," he said.
The pact did not cover sworn employees who guard public safety, such as police officers and firefighters, or workers at the Department of Water and Power, all of whom are also exempt from furloughs.
The coalition agreement included the postponement of three pay increases totaling 7.25% by one to three years. It offered a 1.5% salary cut this year in exchange for four days off the week of Christmas. The deal would require employees to contribute 4% to their retirement healthcare costs, reducing the amount they receive in take-home pay.
In exchange, city officials promised to guarantee medical coverage for retired workers and their spouses, including all future premium increases, according to the coalition.
"There was a lot of push on the other side to vote for it, but in the end, people looked at it and said this is a bad deal for us," said Oscar Winslow, president of the Los Angeles City Attorneys Assn., one of the groups that turned down the deal.
Union leaders who favored the deal said even those not directly affected by furloughs wanted to see them end so that services could be restored.
"We're happy we can put this behind us," said Tim Butcher, a heavy-duty truck operator with the Bureau of Street Services.