City Hall Showdown Looms Over Early Retirement Agreement
Who's got a tourniquet? That seems to be the only tool available to the city of L.A. to stop bleeding money -- according to Controller Wendy Greuel, L.A. is spending $1 million a day more than it takes in. Today the City Council is debating an agreement that had been hammered out between Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Chief Administrative Officer and the Coalition of L.A. City Unions that represents 22,000 city employees belonging to six unions.
Under that June 26 arrangement, city employees would have their cost of living adjustments postponed for two years, while about 2400 would also qualify for early retirement; in exchange, the city would not force any furloughing or layoffs upon the unions. The council approved the agreement in June, but legally could not put it through a final reading until now, although the coalition contends the pact should have gone into effect June 26.
The city's economic advisors now say that the agreement is a financial suicide pact and the mayor himself, who last spring had begun waffling on the early retirement arrangement, is distancing himself from it. Part of the problem is that the city's economic condition has worsened since June, and that the benefits of the agreement to the city have diminished in the months since it's awaited final approval by the city council.
Today's L.A. Times reports that "Villaraigosa aides have grown anxious that the lengthy process being used to approve early retirement was continually eating away at the potential savings to the city."
The coalition is, predictably, unhappy with what it sees as the city's reneging on a deal that both sides had been working over the past year. Besides undoing that work, as well as making union members vulnerable to layoffs, a broken pact could be viewed as undermining the coalition's position in the intra-union sniping with the Engineers and Architects Association, which was not a signatory to the deal and which had threatened to block it in court.
A statement issued by coalition chair Cheryl Parisi disclosed that last night the unions had met with the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, and with CAO Miguel Santana -- whose proposal to lay off more than 900 employees while calling for 26 days of civilian furloughs, Parisi claimed, was rejected by the council members.
"Coalition leaders met with the CAO, his staff, and Council leadership well into the night," Parisi's statement said. "We answered the Council's call and came up with creative ways to bridge a gap of more than $60 million."
At the moment the full City Council continues to debate the issue in closed session. By day's end the city should know how far in the red it will be -- and if there will be a political bloodbath as a result of frayed City Hall-union alliances. The coalition has declared its intention to file a lawsuit against the city, should the City Council reject the agreement.