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Greuel, Garcetti courted big labor group for endorsement

March 12, 2013 |  6:30 pm

As she sought the endorsement of the county’s most influential public employee union Tuesday, mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel dismissed criticism of her backing from organized labor, saying unions are not political "baggage."

“When I go out to parts of the city and they say to me, ‘I’m not sure I can vote for you because you’re the labor candidate.’ Guess what? I’m proud to have labor support," said told the political committee of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an umbrella group representing 600,000 workers. 

"You know what they also say?" Greuel added. " ‘You’re a special interest. Ooh. That’s horrible,’ " she said, mockingly. “I’m proud that you’re a special interest. And you’re a special interest for the working men and women.”

Greuel made the remarks at a closed-door meeting of the labor federation, shortly before 70% of the committee voted to give her their endorsement. The Times acquired recordings of portions of the remarks made by both Greuel and her rival, Councilman Eric Garcetti.

The endorsement will not be official until two more votes occur over the next week, but those approvals  are considered largely procedural.

As she has in the past, Greuel accused Garcetti of failing to engage in collective bargaining –- a  reference to a pivotal vote last fall on pensions. That was when city officials hiked the retirement age and scaled back pension benefits for newly hired civilian city workers, over the objections of unions that said the changes had not been properly negotiated. The changes take effect July 1 and are designed to save $4 billion over 30 years.

“It’s about collective bargaining. How important is collective bargaining to all of us? It is the heart and soul of what you stand for,” Greuel told the labor committee.

Garcetti voted to support the pension changes. His spokesman, Jeff Millman, defended the councilman’s handling of the vote on retirement benefits and questioned whether Greuel would side with unions who are now challenging the pension rollback.

“Eric collectively bargained hundreds of millions of dollars in real pension reform. While Ms. Greuel won't say it publicly, it appears she would undo the city's pension reforms,” he said.

In a phone call, Greuel would not say whether she would side with unions that have filed a challenge to the pension changes. But she said she favored both the pension rollback and the collective bargaining process.

"I supported the reforms," she said. "I think there should have been collective bargaining."

As city controller, Greuel did not have to vote on the rollback of benefits for new employees. Officials who supported the pension changes were warned by the labor federation's leader, Maria Elena Durazo, that their votes would “come back and haunt” them.

Garcetti, who has sharply criticized the multimillion-dollar campaign support Greuel has received from city employee unions, argued in Tuesday's meeting that he was not attacking labor.

“I haven’t hit back at labor,” he said. “Let me be clear. The term special interests … is not something I’ve used to attack labor.”

He also argued that he has long supported the cause of labor, such as crafting an ordinance that forbids the opening of nonunion Wal-Mart SuperCenters in the city. “As we speak right now  I’m doing more to promote labor … on issues that you care about than anybody else in this race,” he said.

“But I have more in that plus column that anybody in this race,” he said. “And I’m going to win. I’m going to be the next mayor. And I can’t wait to get to work with each of you, each of you, no matter where you are in this race.”

Once news of the labor federation vote broke, Garcetti’s campaign responded by trumpeting its support from other unions, including Teamsters Joint Council 42, the Communication Workers of America’s Southern California Council, Laborers' Local 300, and the Service Employees International Union’s United Service Workers West.

"We are already making calls and knocking on doors for Eric Garcetti," said Ron Herrera, of the Teamsters' council, said in a statement. Garcetti is the preferred choice of his union, he said, because of the councilman has shown a strong ability to grow jobs in his district.

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-- David Zahniser and Seema Mehta

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