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Council OKs raises for city workers

The 5-year, $255-million deal affects 22,000 employees. Villaraigosa discusses budget woes soon after its approval.

December 20, 2007|David Zahniser and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a package of employee pay increases that will cost $255 million by 2012, even as the city's budget officials issued new warnings about the city's finances.

On a 12-0 vote, the council gave five years' worth of raises to roughly 22,000 city workers, including librarians, park employees, security guards, part-time crossing guards and city attorneys.

An hour later, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa met with department heads to discuss the city's budget woes, informing them they will need to cut back on travel equipment and fuel costs. He also said they need to come up with plans for cutting budgets 8% starting July 1.

Despite the call for budget cuts, mayoral spokesman Matt Szabo said Villaraigosa viewed the salary agreements as "essential" to maintaining city services. "We're talking about employees that perform the core functions of the city," Szabo said.

This week, the city's financial analysts warned that the city faced a shortfall of at least $243 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. And on Wednesday, they said sales tax revenue has declined more than had been expected.

The city faces the shortfall even if voters approve Proposition S, a $243-million telephone utility tax measure on the Feb. 5 ballot, in part because of a decline in taxes derived from home sales, said City Administrative Officer Karen Sisson.

The council's salary vote was criticized by foes of Proposition S, which was placed on the ballot last month after the council declared that the city would face an emergency if the telephone utility tax was eliminated by pending court challenges.

"It is disingenuous to claim on the one hand that we face such a severe budget crisis and that we have to either raise taxes or lay off police, and yet claim on the other hand that we should commit for five years to pay $255 million more in salaries," said Walter Moore, who wrote the ballot argument against the tax measure.

Union officials disagreed, saying the agreements represented a "new relationship" in which city employees would look for ways of making the city more efficient.

"We don't just say we have our contract and we're done," said Barbara Maynard, spokeswoman for the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represented the 19 employee groups. "We're going to be working closely with the city to help them deal with their financial issues, because their problems are our problems."

The five-year pay package will provide a 2% raise retroactive to July 1, followed by 2% on Jan. 1, 3% on July 1, 3% in July 2009, 2.25% in July 2010 and 2.25% on July 2011. Employees with more than five years' experience will see additional raises of 2.75% in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

When compounded over five years, some employees will see raises of about 25%.

If the employee coalition identifies $25 million in budget savings by 2012, workers will get to pocket the money, according to a briefing paper on the agreement.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said she supported the raises because they represented only a small percentage of next year's projected budget shortfall. If the tax measure fails, the council will have the authority to reopen salary talks with its 19 employee groups, Greuel added.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who heads the council's budget committee, said the 22,000 employees were receiving pay hikes similar to those granted over the last two years to police officers, firefighters and workers represented by the Engineers and Architects Assn.

"Just because they are the last in the cycle, they shouldn't be punished," he said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

steve.hymon@latimes.com

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