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L.A. Mayor Garcetti working to rebuild ties to labor unions

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, opposed by some unions during the election campaign, talks of the importance of a living wage during the national AFL-CIO convention.

September 11, 2013|By Michael Finnegan and Catherine Saillant
  • Eric Garcetti shakes hands with Donald Galaz as he meets with dock workers and other backers at a Wilmington restaurant in May while campaigning for mayor of Los Angeles.
Eric Garcetti shakes hands with Donald Galaz as he meets with dock workers… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Months after much of organized labor fought hard to block his election as mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti tried to mend fences Wednesday with a call for solidarity with unions in their struggle for jobs that pay middle-class wages.

"Now more than ever, our fight must be for more than just jobs," Garcetti told hundreds of union leaders at a national AFL-CIO convention in downtown Los Angeles. "It must be for good jobs — jobs that don't just pay rent, but that help you buy a home. Jobs that don't just pay the bills, but that can send your children to college."

Maria Elena Durazo, the Los Angeles County Labor Federation leader who ran an independent campaign against Garcetti in the May election, welcomed the mayor's remarks, saying unions were focused on the tasks ahead.

"By being here today, he obviously is signaling that he wants to work with labor, and he intends to work with labor, and that's a good place to be," Durazo said.

During the campaign, Durazo accused Garcetti of turning his back on hotel workers seeking a $15-an-hour minimum wage and faulted him for backing pension cuts for some new city workers without collective bargaining.

Garcetti, a former city councilman, has long been a pro-labor Democrat. But public employee unions, led by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local representing Department of Water and Power employees, and the county labor federation spent heavily against him in the mayor's race.

A handful of unions representing truck drivers, dockworkers, janitors and other mostly private-sector employees sided with Garcetti. Several were seeking City Hall support for efforts to expand their ranks. In an interview, Garcetti said he would continue backing the right of all workers to unionize, saying those whose wages are too low wind up costing taxpayers when they seek social services from local government.

In remarks at the convention, Garcetti highlighted the emergence of Los Angeles — once a staunch anti-union town — as a rare bright spot for organized labor in an era of setbacks elsewhere.

"Los Angeles is the home of the living wage movement, a superstore ordinance to stand up for retail clerks," he told the crowd. "We are a place that is organizing new workers, like car washeros."

He also reminded the audience he was a member of the Screen Actors Guild — "It's L.A.," he said — and paid tribute on the anniversary of 9/11 to "the union men and women who searched and cleared the rubble, who rebuilt New York."

Frank Lima, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles, another union at the forefront of the campaign against Garcetti, applauded the mayor's comments. He also said city firefighter union leaders recently had "a great dinner with Eric."

Durazo said she was looking forward to working with Garcetti on keeping shipping and entertainment jobs in Los Angeles, expanding public construction projects that produce work for union members and increasing the poverty wages many city residents earn while working full-time.

"What I can see right now," she said, "is that we have a lot in common."

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