The Los Angeles City Council moved forward Wednesday with a plan for layoffs and furloughs but declined to end discussion over a proposal to give employees early retirement, leaving that question to its labor negotiators.
As they struggled to eliminate a $405-million budget shortfall, council members said they still hoped the city's negotiators would come up with other budget solutions over the next two days that would help them avoid the most draconian cuts.
The council referred the early retirement plan to the Executive Employee Relations Committee, which is composed of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and four council members. That panel is to meet today.
The council will still need to cast a second vote before Sept. 28 for its cuts to go into effect, according to council President Eric Garcetti's office. Such a move would eliminate 926 jobs -- many through layoffs -- and force the employees of the Coalition of L.A. City Unions to take 26 unpaid days off by June 30.
Garcetti said Wednesday's 13-0 vote to impose the cuts serves as "an insurance policy" in case the unions and the council are unable to find other budget solutions before Friday, when the next council meeting is expected. Councilman Richard Alarcon said the vote buys the city two more days to create a more financially viable early retirement plan.
"There's been a lot of progress" during the talks with the city's employee unions, added Councilwoman Jan Perry.
Villaraigosa criticized the decision, saying the council should have moved more decisively toward employee layoffs and furloughs at a time when the city is losing $1 million a day.
The council should not even consider a new early retirement plan until after it has made those difficult cuts, he said.
"We cannot allow ourselves to be in the position where we fail to act or where we delay the tough choices," said Villaraigosa, who has promised to veto the existing retirement plan, which he negotiated three months ago.
After the vote, union leaders spoke as though they did not expect the city to follow through with layoffs. Coalition leaders praised the council for engaging in constructive negotiations and said they would develop their own contingency plan, including a lawsuit to ensure that early retirement is approved.
"We're finding common ground, and we hope to build on that common ground," said coalition lawyer Victor Gordo.
The current retirement plan would allow 2,400 workers to leave up to five years early with full benefits. Although it was designed to help address a budget crisis, the city's top financial advisor warned last week that it would save only $12 million this budget year.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana called on the mayor and the council to abandon a plan to shield the coalition's members from furloughs and layoffs, saying such a scenario would result in deep cuts to public safety. The coalition secured that promise three months ago after its members agreed to postpone raises for two years.
Some council members said Wednesday that that they still hope to avoid layoffs but believe the coalition's members will need to agree to an unspecified number of furloughs. Until now, unpaid days off have been limited to another employee group, the Engineers and Architects Assn.
Since July 1, nearly 1,000 of the association's members who fill civilian jobs at the Los Angeles Police Department have been forced to take furloughs, according to figures provided by the city's Personnel Department. Two-thirds of the workers in City Controller Wendy Greuel's office must do the same. And 78% of the Planning Department's workforce has taken one day off every two weeks.
By contrast, 89% of workers in the Recreation and Parks Department and 86% of employees in the Animal Services agency have not had to take furloughs because they belong to the coalition, which consists solely of civilian employees.
Elected officials are also engaged in talks with the city's public safety unions. Police and firefighters have been asked to accept a 14% cut in overall compensation -- salaries, bonuses, overtime and benefits -- at the same time that Villaraigosa continues his push to hire 1,000 police officers.