Greuel to explore pension changes for existing city employees, backer says
A co-chairman of Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel’s mayoral campaign told business leaders Wednesday that his candidate will explore an increase in the retirement age for current city workers.
A day before she is set to meet with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce to explain her views on pensions, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg sent an e-mail depicting Greuel as someone who would fight to cut retirement costs at City Hall. But he also criticized a recently approved ordinance that cuts benefits for future employees as a “costly political gimmick.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council moved last year to increase the retirement age for future city employees from 55 to 65 for civilian city workers. Greuel's rival in the mayor's race, Councilman Eric Garcetti, voted for that change, which takes effect July 1.
“Sadly, the potential savings from the council's plan will not be realized for years and could cost the city millions in legal fees in the short-term because Mr. Garcetti and the council decided to act unilaterally, rather than including the city's working men and women in the discussion,” he said in the email.
Hertzberg repeated the argument made over the last six months by public employee unions that the city should have engaged in collective bargaining before reducing benefits for employees who have not yet been hired. That argument is the cornerstone of a challenge to the pension cuts filed by the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents 18,000 city workers.
Alice Goff, president of the city union that represents clerks at City Hall, said she would not be open to a discussion on changes in the retirement benefits for existing city workers. Workers already agreed to pay more toward retiree healthcare, she said.
"Our members have already made a sacrifice and that can't be ignored," said Goff, who is with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 36.
Villaraigosa has said repeatedly that he did not pursue cuts in benefits for existing workers because he did not believe they would withstand a legal challenge. Under state law, even if the city's workers agree to increase their retirement age, "the city has to provide them with a benefit of the same value,” said City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget official at City Hall.
Santana also defended last year's pension vote, saying that he and his colleagues repeatedly asked for the unions’ input as they searched for ways to reduce retirement costs, holding a dozen meetings on the topic over two years. The coalition, Santana said, submitted a proposal that “would have resulted in our costs actually going up, not going down.”
The Chamber of Commerce asked Greuel to appear to explain comments she made to The Times calling for negotiations to be reopened on last fall’s pension vote. Greuel reversed herself Tuesday, saying that she only wants to hold talks with unions to try to avert a lawsuit over the pension reductions.
Greuel has repeatedly argued that the city should have engaged in collective bargaining with its unions before reducing benefits for new civilian employees. City budget watchers have warned that unions will seek new concessions before dropping their challenge.
Speaking on his own behalf in a follow-up email, Hertzberg said Greuel would secure an increase in the retirement age by negotiating with the city's employee unions. And he said the hike in retirement age for future workers "did not directly deal with current fiscal emergency.”
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall