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Early retirement urged over layoffs

May 03, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Six Los Angeles city employee unions have asked Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to offer early retirement to thousands of senior city workers, saying such a program could save $177 million annually and avert layoffs over the next year.

With Villaraigosa looking to pare 767 jobs to balance the budget for next year, the Coalition of L.A. Unions circulated a counterproposal that recommends giving financial incentives to as many as 6,000 of the city's oldest, most highly paid workers.

Under the proposal, eligible employees who agree to leave would receive up to five more years toward their retirement calculation, giving them better pension benefits and a reason to leave right away, said Barbara Maynard, a spokeswoman for the coalition.

Maynard said the move also would allow the mayor to stabilize the budget, which calls for a range of cuts designed to preserve his plan to hire 1,000 police officers.

"Allowing city employees to retire early will allow the city to save critical services like library hours, after-school recreation programs and animal care in the city shelters," said Maynard, whose group represents 22,000 workers.

Maynard discussed the proposal on the same day that the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee went behind closed doors to discuss Villaraigosa's plan for eliminating hundreds of jobs and forcing most remaining employees to take six unpaid days off. No decision was made, however. The furloughs would not apply to police officers, firefighters or most sanitation workers.

Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo said his boss had not made any commitment to the proposal. But he said the mayor was encouraged to see the six unions searching for alternatives to budget cuts.

"If there are other proposals that would achieve the same amount of savings in real dollars, the mayor would be willing to consider them," he said.

Under the mayor's proposal, no more than 370 layoffs are expected. Of the 767 positions that Villaraigosa wants to eliminate, 397 are vacant, according to a memo released Friday.

The union coalition began circulating its proposal Thursday afternoon, just as council members received complaints about the mayor's plan to cut Sunday library hours, reduce animal shelter hours, slash park maintenance and eliminate Channel 36, a city-owned television station that offers high school sports coverage and other programming.

Although the coalition initially said the retirement proposal could save $190 million, it downgraded that figure to $177 million on Friday afternoon.

Although the early retirement proposal would provide immediate relief to the city budget, it would place a heavier burden on the city's pension fund.

A study of a similar city program found that if 30% of eligible workers took early retirement, the pension system would face an additional $500-million liability, according to the coalition's figures.

Maynard argued that such a change would be minor when compared with the size of the city's roughly $11-billion pension fund.

The union coalition that proposed the early retirement plan received a five-year package of pay raises from Villaraigosa and the council in December. Those raises are expected to cost the city roughly $255 million by 2012.

If approved, the early retirement plan would target city employees who are 55 or older and have at least 10 years of city service, those who are 50 or older with 30 years of service and workers who are five years from being eligible for retirement.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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