Several thousand union members rallied Friday on the south lawn at Los Angeles City Hall, calling on state and federal leaders to do more to address the state's 12.3% unemployment rate. But what was billed as a jobs rally was laced with heavy criticism for the Republicans running for governor and senator, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina.
During an event organized by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, union leaders showered U.S. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer with praise while casting Fiorina and Whitman as a "job destruction duo."
Whitman and Fiorina have said public sector benefits have become too generous. Fiorina has vowed to rein in government spending, and Whitman promises to slim the state workforce by 40,000 employees and has said new non-safety state workers should have 401(k) plans instead of participating in the state's pension program.
"Some people see public employees as an island of privilege," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "The truth is you're the foundation of decent standards; you're the only ones standing in the way of a Republican-driven, all-out race to the bottom."
Before calling on workers to work on phone banks and walk neighborhoods in November, Trumka called Whitman "shady" and faulted Fiorina for overseeing thousands of layoffs and outsourcing American jobs when she was head of Hewlett-Packard.
Fiorina's aides noted that Trumka and Boxer were joined on stage by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has presided over hundreds of layoffs to deal with the city's budget crisis. About 400 city employees have been laid off so far this year.
Boxer, who appeared in her official capacity, did not mention her rival by name but touted her support for the federal stimulus package and her work on pending small business legislation.
Boxer also vowed to press ahead on L.A.'s 30/10 plan to accelerate 12 major transit projects — including the Westside subway extension — and complete them in 10 years instead of 30, which she said would "create thousands of good-paying union jobs."
"When people say are you ready to help Main Street not Wall Street, I say 'yes,' " she told the crowd.
Officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee questioned why Boxer would make an official appearance at an event that took on the tone of a campaign rally. Amber Marchand, a spokeswoman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Boxer "should explain immediately why she believes it's appropriate to attend a liberal political rally on the taxpayers' dime."
Boxer's Senate spokesman, Zachary Coile, said the senator "was invited in her official capacity to talk about L.A.'s 30/10 transit plan and federal efforts to create jobs in California, and that's what she did."
Both the Whitman and Fiorina campaigns took the opportunity to play up their rivals' ties to labor, which will play a critical role in boosting their campaigns this fall.
"Every day, [Democratic gubernatorial nominee] Jerry Brown becomes more indebted to unions — a debt he will be forced to pay back in backroom deals and higher taxes if he gets elected," said Whitman spokesman Darrel Ng.
Fiorina's spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, defended Fiorina's record at Hewlett-Packard, stating that Fiorina is the only candidate in the race "who has actually created a job." Boxer's policies, Saul said, "are sitting so poorly with voters during 12.3% unemployment that she's forced to call in her left-wing reinforcements as payback for her years of unwavering support of big labor."
But the discussion of Whitman and Fiorina seemed lost on the vast majority of workers in the audience, who were letter carriers from other parts of the country and had been attending their union convention in Anaheim.