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L.A. union worker told members to put fake names on voter petition

November 20, 2012 |  2:49 pm

One of Los Angeles' largest public employee unions admitted Tuesday that a staffer sent an email to members asking that they sign "fake names/addresses" on a petition being circulated by former Mayor Richard Riordan to place a pension initiative on the ballot.

City election law requires that the petition carry a certain number of verified voter signatures to qualify.

Service Employees International Union Local 721 made the acknowledgment in a statement criticizing Paul Kim, a work site organizer, for sending the email last week as the union prepared to kick off its campaign opposing Riordan's measure. 

"SEIU 721 in no way recommends that its members or anyone else falsify signatures on any petition,'' said Ian Thompson, a union spokesman. "We are firmly against that kind of behavior. The email in question was sent without the knowledge of the union’s leadership. The person who sent the email has been disciplined for his action."

Thompson said Kim's email likely reached "very few" members. "It was sent from his personal work account and was not an official union communication,'' he said.

Riordan's measure would end taxpayer-backed pensions for new city employees, switching them into a 401(k)-style plan. It would also require current employees to pay more toward their pensions. The multimillionaire businessman says the changes are needed to keep the city out of bankruptcy.

The email appears to have been sent Nov. 15 and asks members to participate in an upcoming Nov. 17 kickoff rally to prevent the pension initiative from qualifying for the May ballot. Riordan needs roughly 265,000 valid signatures by the end of December.

"We need Union members hitting the streets signing Riordan’s petition with fake names/addresses and gathering retraction signatures from LA residents on our own petition,'' Kim wrote in the email. "We need people power starting this Saturday."

About 100 union members and supporters fanned out across Los Angeles after Saturday's rally attempting to derail the efforts of Riordan's paid signature gatherers. They were told to use the union's counter arguments to persuade voters against signing, union officials said.

Kim's admonishment is "totally out of line,'' said one union executive, who spoke on condition he not to be identified because it's a personnel issue.

"Paul misspoke and we’re going to rectify that,'' said the official. "It’s a nonissue and Richard Riordan is just trying to find a way to discredit us."

A spokeswoman with the city clerk's election division said it is illegal to sign a false name to a ballot petition. She did not immediately know what penalties could be imposed.

Riordan spokesman John Schwada said the union is trying to make light of someone deliberately trying to thwart the ballot measure process.

"It’s possible there are hundreds and even thousands of fake signatures on those documents. They have now contaminated them,'' Schwada said. "It's not sufficient for SEIU to just say we’re going to discipline this guy. We need to find who may have acted on his instructions, and how many people received that email."

Thompson, the union spokesman, said residents and workers shouldn't let the mistake of one man dilute the focus of the labor's campaign.

"The petition being circulated by Richard Riordan would strip middle-class city workers of retirement security,'' he said. "It is an initiative funded by billionaires and millionaires to make them richer, while hurting L.A. and the people who keep it running.”

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 -- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall

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