L.A. employee union lashes out at Villaraigosa

One of Los Angeles’ largest public employee unions is lashing out at Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, claiming he has been “flying all over the country, managing his image and trying to secure his next job” while city workers struggle to serve Angelenos.

Service Employees International Union Local 721 emailed City Hall members over the weekend, criticizing Villaraigosa for pushing City Hall layoffs and a hike in the retirement age for newly hired city workers.

Titled “Mayor Two-Face is at it Again,” the email offers a statement from city equipment mechanic Ray Rice, demanding to know whether Villaraigosa, who has traveled out of Southern California 11 times so far this year, views city employee unions as partners or as enemies.

“I suspect the Mayor doesn’t know. That’s because while we’ve been working hard to serve the citizens of Los Angeles, he’s been flying all over the country...,” Rice wrote. “Maybe if he’d spend half as much time running the city as he does running the upcoming Democratic convention he’d know where he stands.”


The exchange shows how rapidly relations have deteriorated between the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which includes SEIU and five other labor groups, and the mayor, who was recently named chairman of the Democratic National Convention. Just last summer, Villaraigosa and other city leaders celebrated completion of a new contract that assured coalition members a series of raises in return for larger contributions toward their retirement.

Relations soured last month after city officials announced they lack the money for this year’s pay increases. On Thursday, Villaraigosa went further, telling a business audience he wants “a large number” of layoffs, and to delay retirement for new city workers from age 55 to 67.

“I have gotten 99% of my budgets [passed] every single year, and I expect that we’re going to get 99% of this budget approved as well,” he told the audience.

Villaraigosa got his political start as a union organizer but has taken a more confrontational tone toward labor leaders in recent years — both at City Hall and the Los Angeles Unified School District. He described city unions as his partners during last week’s speech. Minutes later, he promised to put the retirement age on the ballot if necessary.

Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders said his boss, who was in Washington on Monday for a conference on youth violence, has been traveling in an effort to secure more funding for transportation, education and anti-gang programs. “The mayor has been tireless in his efforts to secure nearly $1.3 billion in federal funding for local transportation projects that would bring more than 166,000 jobs to the region,” he said.

The mayor took at least 22 trips outside of Southern California last year, including a 12-day trade mission to Asia. Since Jan. 1, he has gone to San Jose to receive an honorary doctoral degree, traveled to Seattle for an event on public education and was in Rancho Mirage for the “Sunnylands Moment,” a symposium moderated by Judy Woodruff of “PBS’ NewsHour.”

Several of his trips have been to Washington, spurred on partly by his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and his push for a major transportation bill. The trips have led to regular appearances on CNN and MSNBC, and allowed Villaraigosa to elevate his profile while rubbing shoulders with such national media figures as Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group.

Back in Los Angeles, city union leaders have distributed bilingual fliers accusing Villaraigosa and City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the city’s top budget official, of breaking their promises to employees. The fliers assert both officials have shown a “failure of leadership” by not more aggressively pursuing those who owe the city money.