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Unions threatened with layoffs protest Villaraigosa trips out of town

Mailer from Local 721 of the Service Employees International Union.

City workers are planning a protest outside Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s annual State of the City address Wednesday to voice their anger at the mayor’s plan for layoffs.

Members of one city employee labor union will be distributing postcards attacking Villaraigosa, accusing him of taking too many trips out of town. “Greetings from Los Angeles," the postcards say on one side. A message to the mayor on the other says: “We know you are busy flying all over the country and planning your big convention party and auditioning for your next job. But Los Angeles residents need you now.”

The mayor has taken many trips to Washington to lobby for local transportation funding, and he is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He was also recently selected to chair this summer's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Several weeks ago, Villaraigosa said a "large number" of layoffs might be necessary to help fix the city’s fiscal crisis. The announcement came shortly after the city's five-member employee bargaining committee asked city unions to give up raises scheduled for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Those unions have refused to reopen contract talks.

A recent city budget report says layoffs can be avoided if employees agree to forgo the raises promised to them for the next two fiscal years, and also calls for a hike in the retirement age for newly hired city workers.

But union members, who agreed to help fund an early retirement program and pension reform in exchange for the pay raises, say they have given enough.

“We have a hard time trusting this guy now,” said Art Sweatman, a tree surgeon with the city and a member of Service Employees International Union, Local 721, which printed the postcards. “We’ve given back. We’ve taken furlough days. We’ve taken unpaid holidays. How can we trust someone who has told us we did everything we needed to do -- and then comes back and tells us that we haven’t done enough?”

A spokesman for Villaraigosa did not immediately return calls for comment. Several weeks ago, in response to another attack on the mayor's travel schedule by the union, Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders said his boss has been traveling in an effort to secure more funding for transportation, education and anti-gang programs.

The mayor’s speech, which will be webcast, is set to begin at 5 p.m.

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-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Mailer from Local 721 of the Service Employees International Union.

 
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