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Police union challenges former Mayor Riordan to pension debates

November 13, 2012 |  5:57 pm

Los Angeles labor leaders are coming out swinging against former Mayor Richard Riordan's push to place an initiative on next year's ballot switching new city workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans.

Tyler Izen, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, on Tuesday challenged Riordan to three public debates on the merits of his plan before Dec. 7. That's the deadline Riordan has set to collect roughly 265,000 signatures to qualify his measure for the May ballot.

The dates and times could be of Riordan's choosing, Izen said.

Union leaders want him to back up his claims that unless changes are made, ever-increasing payments to the city's three pension systems could cripple the city's ability to provide services.

"Riordan has chosen to hide behind carefully orchestrated radio talk show appearances where no challenging or insightful questions are asked, appearances before groups, where he knows his ideas won’t be challenged, and well-crafted media releases that lack any pretense of substance,” the police union chief said.

Riordan didn't immediately respond to the union's challenge.

Rising city pension costs are expected to be a central issue in next year's mayoral race. Two of the candidates, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel, are backed by influential labor groups and could feel pressure to offer their own reform plans.

In March 2011, voters lowered the benefits provided to new hires in the police and fire departments. And last month, the council passed several changes to the retirement plan for most civilian workers, including raising the retirement age for new employees and forcing them to contribute more toward pensions. But Riordan says those changes fall short of what's needed to pull the city back from the brink of insolvency. Next year's general fund budget faces a $216-million shortfall.

"People are fed up with waiting for their government to take action,'' Riordan told the John & Ken Show last month in announcing his proposed measure.

Labor groups are pushing back hard because Riordan's initiative, if it makes it on the ballot, could prove popular at the ballot box. Voters in San Diego and San Jose soundly backed pension reform initiatives in June.

Riordan's measure would end a guaranteed pension that city workers have enjoyed for decades; in it's place would be a 401(k)-style plan that workers would contribute to, along with the city. A 401(k)-type plan would stabilize pension costs for the city, Riordan said.

Izen, in a statement, said Riordan needs to show how the city would save money. By the union's calculation, the city would end up paying more to fund retirements, at least initially.

It makes "no sense for voters to adopt a pension scheme that immediately and for a lengthy period of time increases City costs,''  Izen said.

The Police Protective League represents more than 9,900 sworn officers.


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