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L.A. union leaders reach deal with city

A tentative agreement with the Engineers and Architects Assn. would provide a 9% raise over the next three years.

December 21, 2006|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

Bringing a close to its most contentious labor fight, the city of Los Angeles has reached agreement with leaders of the Engineers and Architects Assn. on a new contract that would provide a 9% raise over the next three years, according to union and city sources.

The deal, which still needs the approval of the EAA's approximately 7,500 members, surprised leaders of other public employee unions and turned upside down the pattern of relations between the city government and its unions.

When unions representing civilian employees signed contracts in 2004, EAA was the lone holdout. Now, as the city goes into its 2007 contract negotiations, EAA is the only union with a deal.

The city's five-member Executive Employee Relations Committee, which includes Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, approved the formal offer early Wednesday during a closed session in City Hall.

"The city made an offer to the EAA that they've agreed to recommend" to their members, the mayor said as he emerged from the meeting. "It's a win-win for the city and the employees."

The agreement was unexpected not only because it came so early but also because of the considerable bitterness between top city and union officials.

The union represents lab technicians, scientists, airport runway coordinators and other city professionals, who make from $36,000 to $126,000 annually, with an average of $74,500.

The union conducted a two-day strike in August, and in recent weeks EAA members staged several spot strikes at the Port of Los Angeles and other city departments.

The walkouts failed to cause the widespread disruptions promised by the union but were a constant headache for city managers.

EAA quietly asked members Monday to discontinue such job actions. City officials indicated Wednesday that if the new agreement is approved, they would drop litigation they filed to require the union to give advance notice of its spot strikes.

In reaching an agreement, both the union and the city appear to have retreated from their public positions.

EAA members, who had been working without a contract since 2004, said they went on strike because of the city's decision to unilaterally impose contract terms for the years 2004 to 2007. The union had demanded that the city negotiate a contract with more generous terms to cover those years.

Villaraigosa and other city officials publicly pledged not to negotiate with the union and condemned its strikes.

But privately, talks were conducted throughout the fall, and a tentative agreement was reached by last weekend, said sources familiar with the deal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been ratified.

The agreement grants the union a new contract, months in advance of the city's own internal timetable, with raises of 3% in each of the next three years. Those hikes approach those won earlier this year by the union representing police officers.

City officials declined to estimate the cost to taxpayers of those raises.

EAA's outspoken executive director, Robert Aquino, declined an interview request. But EAA has been engaged in a behind-the-scenes contest for influence with other unions representing civilian city employees.

Aquino suggested that his fellow labor leaders were too conciliatory in dealings with the labor-friendly administration of Villaraigosa, a former union organizer. Aquino argued that his more confrontational style would prove more effective in securing concessions.

Other major city unions are expected to begin negotiations in the spring on new contracts to cover the same three years. Their current deals expire in the summer.

In meetings held by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the city unions -- including EAA -- had plotted a joint strategy to pressure the city and negotiate similar contracts next spring. Aquino did not attend a session held Tuesday.

Other union leaders greeted news of the deal coolly and suggested they would demand more than EAA had in next year's contract.

"This is EAA's deal. This is EAA's decision" said Cheryl Parisi, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 36, which represents 8,000 city employees. "I don't think it represents the goals or needs of AFSCME members in the upcoming contract negotiations.... Our needs are different. Our needs are more."

joe.mathews@latimes.com

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