When I got to the City Council Chambers Friday morning, it was already packed with city workers and union leaders and the Council was holed up in a back room rehearsing how they would publicly spin the deal they had reached to revive the sweetheart early retirement package.
My friends in the SEIU challenged me to don one of their purple union T-shirts which I was only too happy to do. I’ve known Julie Butcher and some others a long time and respect them. They represent the city’s lowest paid workers and have a right to pursue their self interests as much as the rest of us.
My quarrel isn’t with them. It’s with the people who hold public office — far and away the most highly paid and overly indulged city officials in America.
The celebratory mood of the several hundred city workers made it clear they were happy with the deal they had cut even though they had to give some concessions.
It was well after noon when the Council finally came out in public and Bernard Parks, the only member who tried to fix the $405 million budget deficit, started putting City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana through a scripted explanation of what had changed in the last week of intense negotiations.
There’s $20 million more in the reserve fund, leaving it only $90 million short of where prudence suggests it should be given LA’s proclivity for emergencies and painting rosy pictures of its financial condition.
The talks had yielded $78 million in savings, Santana said, so layoffs and furloughs would not be necessary. The Early Retirement Incentive Program with its 12.5 percent boost in pensions for 2,400 workers can go forward.
Scuttlebutt suggested the unions had agreed to raise their contributions to the pension fund from the current 6 percent to 7.01 percent, a slight increase on the 6.75 that was in the June offer, and the ERIP retirees would contribute 1 percent of their pensions for the 15 years it will take to pay off the early retirement costs exclusive the $43 million in golden handshakes it will cost to incentivize the lucky 2,400 who get to retire in their early to mid 50s.
The rest of the deal was pretty vague and needed to be kept secret from the public for the next 30 days until after the unions and the Council and mayor ratify it, Council President Eric Garcetti declared.
As luck would have it, Presiding Officer Dennis Zine decided to choose me as the first public speaker after each of the Council members got their time to declare their joy at being part of such a wonderful City Hall “family” with the unions, how their colleagues who worked so hard all week and had to give up a junket were heroes and had saved the city.
It was quite a lovefest, a real family affair. I was a lone voice in the crowd and decided I’d heard enough when they said how more than 10 percent of the 22,000 members of these unions could be sent home with rich pensions and services won’t be affected. There wasn’t any talk about how many of these jobs will be backfilled or people promoted into those high-paying slots.
There’s still a $129 million hole in the budget that has to be worked out with the police union and the LAPD. And hundreds of city workers paid out of the general fund to be transferred to the Harbor, Airport, and the DWP which is gearing up to double and triple its rates.
You’ve got to pity the poor Engineers and Architects Union — City Hall’s whipping boy because the SEIU wants to steal its members. Its 6,600 members still are on furlough every 10th day, a 10 percent pay cut that is somehow morally justified despite all the whining about how the rest of the city workforce couldn’t possibly take a pay cut.
Even if these and other holes in this deal don’t sink the ship of the city in the coming months, there’s still next year with its $800 million deficit looming and the year after when the deficit passes the billion dollar mark — fully a quarter of the city budget.
I’m sure the “City Hall family” will pull together and solve it, no matter what it costs the public. Families are like that.
Too bad there’s four million orphans like me out there who call LA home and pay for all of this.