Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa outlines his $7.05-billion budget Monday.… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)
Seeking to close a $530-million budget gap, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday that he favored cutting workers through early retirement offers instead of layoffs because eliminating "deadwood" and retaining younger, more productive workers would disrupt fewer services.
As part of the $7.05-billion budget plan released Monday, Villaraigosa is pushing for union concessions to help trim salary costs in every city department, including police and fire agencies, by 10%. By trimming costs, the mayor hopes to eliminate the need to lay off 2,800 city workers.
The city's civilian employee unions are lobbying heavily for a negotiated early retirement package that could eliminate more than 2,200 workers. Union officials prefer early retirements to widespread layoffs and other concessions being pushed by Villaraigosa, such as a freeze on salaries, furloughs or higher employee benefit costs.
The mayor, in an interview with Times reporters and editors, said he is reluctant to reduce the city's 50,000-member workforce because it could lead to cutbacks in municipal services. However, he acknowledged that sending workers into retirement would be better than sending them to the unemployment line.
"Of the two -- I'm not saying either one is perfect -- early retirement is better than layoffs. Because you're laying off a lot of deadwood, you know, the folks who wanted to go anyway," Villaraigosa said.
Union representatives, now locked in negotiations with the Villaraigosa administration, offered carefully worded responses to the mayor's comments.
"When there is a $530-million deficit, clearly there are going to be cuts. What those cuts look like and the impact to city services and the people who provide them is the debate," said Barbara Maynard of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents 22,000 city employees. "We believe, strongly, that it is better to preserve the younger workers who are on the frontline of city service and to allow those closest to retirement to retire early."
Villaraigosa added that because of Civil Service protections for city workers, the most recently hired employees would be the first to go if he ordered layoffs, even though the new workers might be more productive or possess more essential skills than employees with seniority.
Still, the mayor said that before he would sign off on an early retirement package, the unions must find a way to pay for the $60-million annual increase in pension liability it would create. That could be achieved through steeper employee pension contributions, furloughs or other concessions.
In Los Angeles, more than 3,150 city employees are eligible for retirement.
The early retirement program being sought by the unions would more than double that number. Union representatives predict that about 35% of those would retire, cutting close to $200 million from the city payroll.
Villaraigosa vowed to continue his police hiring program but said the police union would be expected to share in the budget pain. The mayor's 2009-10 budget proposal does not include any money for raises for police or firefighters, whose unions are negotiating new contracts.
"We're ready to work with the city and the department through contract negotiations to come to an equitable agreement that serves the needs of our city and also our membership," said Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.