L.A. business group wants answers from Greuel on pensions
A Los Angeles business group that endorsed mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel has called on her to appear personally to explain statements she made about pensions -- and about reopening talks with City Hall labor unions over reductions in retirement benefits.
Greuel, the city controller, has been attacking opponent Eric Garcetti for weeks over his City Council vote to roll back retirement benefits for new hires, saying he and his colleagues failed to properly negotiate those changes. She went further Friday, telling The Times that she wants to meet with labor leaders to discuss the reduction in benefits “to make sure we get that pension reform that they agree with."
Those remarks alarmed Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben, who said his organization supported the council's decision to cut pension benefits for newly hired civilian city workers last year. Toebben said he asked Greuel to appear personally before his group to explain herself and disclosed that a Greuel campaign fundraiser scheduled for Thursday by the chamber has been canceled for now.
“We’re going to have a conversation with Wendy to clarify the pension comments,” Toebben said. “And we just didn’t have a sufficient response [from potential guests] at the moment to hold the fundraiser this Thursday. So we are not doing that.”Greuel said Tuesday that the fundraiser had been canceled because potential guests had not been given enough advance notice. And she backed away from some of her previous remarks, including her push for a new round of collective bargaining with employee unions.
In an interview, Greuel said she wants simply to meet with unions to discuss ways to keep them from filing a legal challenge against the pension cuts, not open a new round of negotiations.
"I want to work with them to avoid that lawsuit. But I believe in those pension reforms and do not want to roll them back," she said.
That was a different message from the one Greuel gave last week. On Friday, she told The Times she wanted to meet with the unions on the reforms that had been passed. "So I would sit down with them and ask them to do collective bargaining," she said last week. "Which means yes, open that up to have those discussions."
Labor leaders have filed a challenge against the city's pension ordinance, saying the changes were not negotiated in "good faith." That challenge will probably not be resolved until after a new mayor takes office.
The chamber has been one of the loudest voices in support of reductions in retirement benefits at City Hall. The group endorsed the proposal from former Mayor Richard Riordan to require that newly hired city employees be given 401(k)-style benefits, not pensions.
The council voted last fall for an alternative plan, increasing the retirement age and rolling back benefits for newly hired civilian workers who are not at the Department of Water and Power. But that ordinance has been challenged by the city’s labor unions, who are threatening to take the city to court on the grounds that the city did not negotiate the changes “in good faith."
Greuel has sided with the unions on that point, saying Garcetti and others should have engaged in collective bargaining. She compared the city's handling of pension matters to the state of Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker pushed to strip employee unions of their right to collective bargaining.
The county Federation of Labor endorsed Greuel on Tuesday, one week after she made the comparison between the council's handling of the pension vote and Walker's policy.
Toebben said the meeting with Greuel is still being scheduled. “We want to make sure we are not on opposite sides of this discussion,” Toebben said.
Council President Herb Wesson, who led the charge for the council to approve the pension reductions last fall, said he did not expect the vote to become such a major issue in the campaign. He said he was "comfortable" with the council's vote, saying the city's lawyers advised them that collective bargaining wasn't needed on matters involving future employees.
"To be honest with you, I don't know if I understand where she's going with this," said Wesson, referring to Greuel.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall