One day before an estimated 232 employees at Los Angeles City Hall were slated to be laid off, the City Council on Wednesday turned back a last-minute proposal to delay the cuts for three months.
With scores of employees scheduled to lose their jobs at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the council fell two votes short of the 10 votes needed to reverse course. The vote was 8 to 4, with council members Bernard C. Parks, Jan Perry, Greig Smith and Dennis Zine opposing a new discussion of the cuts.
Opponents of Thursday's layoffs, which coincide with the start of a new fiscal year, contend they will cost the city $3 million more than they will save in salaries. Under its salary agreement with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, the moment a single member is pushed out, the city must pay an estimated $27 million in raises to coalition members who remain on the payroll.
Matt Szabo, deputy chief of staff to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said those numbers are accurate but predicted there probably would be more salary savings in the coming months after a second round of layoffs occur.
At least one-third of the workers slated to lose their jobs are employed in the city's library department. Dozens more work in the city's child care centers.
Union leaders voiced their anger over the vote, saying that more money would be saved by gradually transferring workers to vacant positions and avoiding pay increases altogether this year.
"The mayor's spokesman just highlighted the lunacy of this action," coalition lawyer Victor Gordo said moments after Szabo spoke.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana acknowledged that the city won't begin to save money until more than 350 of the coalition's members receive pink slips. He said another round of layoffs would definitely occur.
Villaraigosa and the council have already transferred 408 employees to city agencies unaffected by the budget crisis, such as the Department of Water and Power, and allowed 2,400 workers to retire up to five years early. Ninety employees have been laid off so far, according to personnel officials.
Santana said those job cuts, coupled with the plan for additional layoffs, have drawn positive reviews from Wall Street rating agencies that have been assessing the city's debt.
"We have a budget that is balanced on the first day of the fiscal year, in contrast to the last fiscal year, when we approved a plan that had a giant hole in it," he said.
The effort to stop the layoffs was spearheaded by council members Richard Alarcon, Paul Koretz and Janice Hahn.
Even some who have voted previously for the cuts now fear that as targeted workers find other city jobs, the number of layoffs could shrink to a point where they simply become a financial burden.
"Once we go down to a certain number, it makes no sense," said Councilman Ed Reyes.