Labor money starts flowing in for Garcetti


Organized labor’s lopsided support for Wendy Greuel in the Los Angeles mayor’s race has started shifting as unions begin pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into an independent campaign backing her rival, Eric Garcetti.

The $300,000 in new labor donations for Garcetti — the first installment of what union leaders say will be more than $1 million — still leaves the city councilman far behind Greuel in the contest for union money.

But it highlights a dramatic split within labor, often the driving force in Los Angeles elections.


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The bulk of labor money behind Greuel, the city controller, comes from public-sector unions that are vying for raises and benefit protections for city workers.

The main source of Garcetti’s labor money is private-sector unions looking for City Hall support to expand their ranks and strengthen their hand in disputes with business. They have been fighting to organize cargo handlers at Los Angeles International Airport and truck drivers at the harbor, among others.

It’s a dynamic that works in Greuel’s favor, at least financially.

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As private-sector union membership has declined nationwide over the last few decades, the strength of unions for government workers has held steady. In Los Angeles, labor has limited its private-sector losses and even made gains organizing such groups as janitors and home-care workers. But public-employee unions still play a big role in labor politics. And the formidable Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is backing Greuel.


By the end of March, labor’s spending favored Greuel over Garcetti by more than 100 to 1, with $2.5 million steered her way and just over $22,000 going to Garcetti.

But over the last several days, the Greuel advantage has shrunk to 8 to 1 as unions for dock workers, truck drivers, airport skycaps and others have started sending big checks to an independent group that’s working to maximize turnout of Garcetti supporters in the May 21 runoff.

The donations to the group, Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti, were $100,000 from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13, $100,000 from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, $50,000 from Laborers’ Local 300 and $50,000 from SEIU United Service Workers West.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Rick Jacobs, co-founder of the independent committee backing Garcetti.

In a heavily Democratic and labor-friendly city, the unions’ financial support can help Garcetti rebut Greuel’s charge that he would be a less reliable champion of working people.

Before the union money started arriving Wednesday, the independent group backing Garcetti had reported raising $535,650. If the unions meet their goal of putting in a total of $1.1 million, it will enable the group to run a get-out-the-vote program for Garcetti on a scale that will match — or so they hope — what the labor federation is expected to do for Greuel. The Garcetti group’s key target is Latinos with spotty voting records.

Mayoral candidates are barred from accepting campaign donations of more than $1,300, but independent groups face no contribution limits. Candidates are not allowed to coordinate spending with the groups.

Thus far, the labor divide in the mayoral contest is largely a matter of where public employee and private sector unions are placing their financial bets.

The breadth of Greuel’s endorsements from private-sector unions is actually wider than Garcetti’s, with cinematographers, aerospace workers, nurses, steelworkers and others in her camp. But unions for city employees, mainly Department of Water and Power workers and police officers, have spent more to get her elected mayor.

Garcetti also has endorsements from public employee unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, but they have put almost no money behind his campaign.

“They both have a track record of being good on labor issues,” said Victor Narro, project director of the UCLA Labor Center.

For months, the influence of unions for the city workforce has been a key focus of the campaign, with candidates sparring over the rising cost of health and pension benefits at a time of chronic cash shortfalls and cuts in city services.

In private remarks to labor audiences, Greuel has faulted Garcetti for backing layoffs and furloughs of city workers and for voting to scale back retirement benefits for new hires without bargaining the change with unions.

Garcetti, in turn, has described Greuel as “bought and paid for” by the DWP union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18. Greuel vowed last week to stand up to her labor supporters in city contract talks. She also accused Garcetti of demonizing city workers.

Maria Elena Durazo, who heads the county labor federation, said, “I do believe that she’s going to be respectful of giving workers an equal shot — and that is what he did not do.”

Greuel, a San Fernando Valley native, is counting on support from the city’s more conservative voters. She has sought to limit the fallout from her alliance with public employee unions by highlighting her backing by business groups, such as the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn. She argues she is better positioned to work with both labor and business to solve the city’s problems.

But Mike Garcia, the leader of SEIU United Service Workers West, which represents 40,000 janitors, security guards and others, said Greuel’s support from major business groups was a source of concern for some unions backing Garcetti.

“We know that if she gets in there, she will be too compromised with those interests to support our efforts to lift our workers out of the impoverished conditions they’re in now,” he said.

One distinction will be that the union money behind Garcetti will be focused on efforts to get the councilman’s supporters to the polls, Garcia said. In the March primary campaign, a group led by the DWP union spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on broadcast ads promoting Greuel and attacking Garcetti.

Times staff writers Maloy Moore and David Zahniser contributed to this report.