Hundreds of city workers representing thousands whose contracts have expired held a rally Wednesday outside Los Angeles City Hall to demand better pay while claiming that Mayor Eric Garcetti has failed to meet a promise of hiring 5,000 new employees.
The members of Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and other unions also marched into a City Council meeting and caused several disruptions while chanting “Fix L.A.” Some also said that Garcetti should focus more on fixing the city and less on exploring a run at the presidency as he travels the country to places like South Carolina and Iowa.
“We are here to send a very clear message to Mayor Garcetti that he needs to keep his promise,” Coral Itzcalli, a spokesman for the SEIU Local 721, told City News Service. “Garcetti promised that he would hire 5,000 city workers to undo the cuts from the recession that have left our city of angels short-staffed. You have broken streets, you have waterways that are not being properly kept clean.”
She added, “You have sanitation workers that don’t have enough people in their crews to keep our city clean. The workforce is struggling, the workforce cannot keep up. The city is falling apart and we’re asking him to fix L.A. We’re asking him to stop traveling and campaigning for your presidential run. You gotta fix your house first.”
The City Council and Garcetti approved a new contract with more than 20,000 civilian employees in 2015 which expired in June. The deal with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions — which represents many of the city’s non-public safety workers — included a freeze on salary increases for workers until mid- 2017, followed by a 2 percent salary increase, and began the process for hiring 5,000 new employees.
The Department of Water and Power has around 9,000 employees, but its workers have a separate union outside of the coalition.
Garcetti said he has met the goal of hiring 5,000 new employees. During a news conference on Sept. 21, he was asked about the recent claims from the coalition that he had broken his promise.
“We said very clearly, and the leadership has acknowledged this to me, it was not 5,000 net new jobs, it was 5,000 targeted local hire jobs, and we have done that. We have met that,” Garcetti said. “They knew what I was — that meeting was in my office with the leaders, I was a witness to it. It was not net.”
He added, “Not playing games, I told them then, that means 5,000 new people for positions. Some may be growth, there may be some net growth, but it will be 5,000 people, most of whom would be replacing those who are retiring.”
When asked about Garcetti’s statement that he had met the goal, Itzcalli said it was untrue.
“Mayor Garcetti has come out at various times and he pulls these numbers out of thin air and we asked his office, we have asked the CAO, news media has asked. We have not seen any actual reporting of where these numbers are, because when you hire at the city of L.A., we the unions will know because those are our workers and we will see them on the rolls. So we don’t know where he’s pulling these numbers from,” she said.
Itzcalli and other coalition leaders suggested the conflict could lead to a strike.
“This is a soft launch. You’re looking at less than 1,000 city workers out here,” Itzcalli said. “If city workers are not heard by Mayor Eric Garcetti, what you’re gonna see is a shutdown of the city. That is what the workers are looking at. The workers are ready to do that.”
Brian Story, a member of SEIU Local 721, has been working for the Department of Sanitation for 30 years and said contract negotiations with the representatives of the office of City Administrative Officer Richard Llewellyn have not been going well. He said aside from an increase in hiring, employees are asking for raises.
“This is about the city administrative officer bargaining team not bargaining in good faith right now with the team of coalitions. What triggered it all is their unwillingness to give us a fair contract, to give us fair salary increases,” Story said.
In June of last year, the City Council approved a new contract for the union that represents 9,000 LADWP workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which included five straight years of raises while continuing the practice of union workers not contributing toward their health care costs — a benefit not enjoyed by all city workers.
The new contract was criticized by some as being too generous — to the point that it could cause other city unions to ask for raises — as well as for being fast-tracked to a vote, but was approved by the City Council on an 11- 3 vote.
Llewellyn said the deal was not a template for future deals with other unions and contended the raises were needed to keep LADWP workers from leaving to work for other cities.