The Los Angeles firefighters union has blocked public access to a video that shows union leaders calling for more aggressive political campaigns to protect members' pensions.
Hours after The Times reported on the video, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 changed the settings on the YouTube video, limiting viewing to its members. In the video, union President Frank Lima appealed to his members to increase their dues, saying a bigger campaign war chest would send "a tremendous message" to City Hall.
The Times retained a copy of the video, part of the union's effort to persuade firefighters to double their dues from $19 to $38 per paycheck. Proceeds from the increase would go to the union's political action committee. In the video, Lima said the initiative is "about strength and fear."
The move by the union drew criticism from neighborhood activist Jack Humphreville, who said the group no longer wants the public to see the "raw power" at work in city politics. "They're blocking public access to the video because they don't want the voters to see how they're using money to manipulate votes on the City Council," said Humphreville, a frequent critic of city salary and benefit agreements.
Lima disputed the notion that his organization is trying to keep secret its push for higher dues, which will require a change in union bylaws. "It's in the paper. I talked about it. It's just an internal video for internal use only," he said.
Earlier this week, Lima said his use of the word "fear" in the video was a reference to firefighters who are worried about their reduced staffing and benefits, not any effort to pressure lawmakers.
The firefighters union has made $425,000 in independent expenditures -- campaign spending not covered by city contribution limits -- in this year's election, most of it to help mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel.
The union spent $350,000 on efforts to help Greuel and gave $75,000 to a committee that is backing Greuel and three council candidates -- John Choi, Curren Price and Gil Cedillo.