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Greuel, Garcetti advance in municipal union's endorsement process

January 28, 2013 |  2:20 pm

The powerful union that represents about 10,000 workers at City Hall has called two of the top mayoral candidates back for more questions Tuesday night -- raising the prospect of a pivotal endorsement five weeks before the election.

The Service Employees International Union failed to back any of the four leading contenders in the March 5 mayoral election after they appeared at a closed-door union forum nearly two months ago. But Greuel and Garcetti have been invited back by SEIU for a second round Tuesday, with each scheduled to field 45 minutes of questions from members, union officials said.

SEIU Local 721 spokesman Ian Thompson said the group wants to make sure "we don’t have another four years of the same anti-worker policies emanating from City Hall" -- a reference to the union's dissatisfaction with key budget moves by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council. And SEIU regional director David Sanders said certain questions needed to be posed to Garcetti, who was president of the council when approved the layoffs of about 360 city workers.

“Eric … voted to lay off our members. He has to say why it happened. He has to own up to that,” Sanders said.

Last month, when the mayoral candidates appeared before the SEIU, Greuel zeroed in on the issue of layoffs and strongly implied that workers could not trust Garcetti. She also said in that appearance that she would be with the union “every step of the way.” Garcetti responded at the time by saying he would not apologize for votes that made sure the city “does not go bankrupt.” But he also spoke out against a new round of proposed layoffs.

Greuel had left the council by the time votes were taken to move thousands of workers off the general fund payroll, which pays for basic services. The vast majority took early retirement -- receiving pensions as much as five years early -- or took new jobs at other city agencies, such as the Department of Water and Power.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who was not invited to Tuesday's do-over, said she assumed the decision had been prearranged and predicted the SEIU would back Greuel. She said she failed to make the second round because she had had publicly voiced support for City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the budget official who first recommended layoffs and other cost-cutting strategies.

At their first forum, candidates were asked whether they would keep Santana. Greuel and Garcetti both ducked the question.

“I suspect I was not invited [back] because I was not willing to say that I am willing to terminate Miguel Santana," Perry said.

Thompson said Garcetti and Greuel were asked back because they were "the most viable candidates in the race." He disputed assertions that the decision had already been made by the union. "Our members will hear from both candidates, have an open discussion and then vote on an endorsement recommendation," he said in an e-mail. "No one yet has any idea what that recommendation will be. It’s up to the candidates to impress our members."

Even if members of various SEIU locals vote to endorse on Tuesday, Thompson said the recommendation would still need to be taken up by the union's executive board. A final decision would likely occur next week.

Garcetti could not be reached for comment. But a spokesman for Greuel said she would be “honored to have the support of the working men and women who keep our city running.”

Greuel spokesman Dave Jacobson said his client would "give it her all" at Tuesday's union forum. “It's anyone's guess what the outcome is going to be,” he added.


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall