L.A. County labor federation backs Wendy Greuel for mayor
The powerful umbrella group for Los Angeles County unions endorsed Wendy Greuel for mayor Tuesday, saying she was the only candidate in the race who could be trusted to support working families.
The announcement by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor followed a rare unanimous vote Monday night by 300 delegates from an array of private- and public-sector unions. The group chose Greuel, the city controller, over City Councilman Eric Garcetti. The two square off in a May 21 runoff.
In a news conference at county Fed headquarters west of downtown, union members referred to Greuel repeatedly as being the honorable choice while suggesting her opponent, whom they did not name, might go back on his word.
The reference was to Garcetti’s vote last fall to reduce pension benefits and raise the retirement age from 55 to 65 for civilian employees hired by the city after July 1. The City Council unanimously approved the changes without negotiating with union representatives, a move that labor leaders said violated Garcetti’s previous pledge to engage in collective bargaining on all contract changes.
"The one thing that cannot be lost here is the honesty,” said Thom Davis, a vice president at the county labor group. “If somebody gives us an answer we do not like, that’s OK, we can deal with that. What we have a problem with is when someone is being deceptive, tells us one thing and then does another.”
Maria Elena Durazo, the top official in the labor group, wrote in a letter to The Times on Tuesday that Garcetti had been "dishonest" in ignoring "provisions of existing collective bargaining agreements that he had supported."
Garcetti defended his vote Tuesday in the Fairfax district, where he was accepting the endorsement of Councilman Paul Koretz, who has won election twice with strong backing from organized labor.
“I believe in collective bargaining rights for our current employees and was very clear about that," Garcetti said of his talks with union leaders. "The 12-0 vote that we had in council about future employees was based on the strong legal advice that we can establish a new retirement tier" for future employees, without collective bargaining.
Faced with persistent budget shortfalls, council members said they had to make the pension changes, saving a projected $4 billion over 30 years. Garcetti said he was pressed by union leaders whether he might come back at a future date, asking for pension concessions from current city workers.
"I said, 'I can't predict that we won't be in a global depression or something like that so I can never guarantee,' " Garcetti said, adding that he also told workers they had "stepped up" and already made important concessions to help the city close its budget gap.
Politicians consider the county labor group’s endorsement significant because the federation can send multiple campaign messages to its more than 200,000 members who live in the city of Los Angeles. It can also call on more than 600,000 members countywide to make phone calls and walk precincts for its candidates.
“The hotel workers are getting riled up right now because they want to see Wendy Greuel become mayor of this city,” said Ada Briceno of HERE Local 11, which represents hotel and restaurant workers. “We are going to knock on endless doors from Boyle Heights to San Pedro.”
The City Council voted last fall on the pension changes. Although Greuel said she agreed with the thrust of the reforms, she argued they should have been subject to negotiations with employees.
Greuel told The Times on Monday that she would reopen talks on the pension issue if she is elected and takes office on July 1. Employee groups have threatened to sue to reverse the changes. Greuel said she hoped to stave off that litigation.
Several City Council members and the Garcetti campaign said Greuel’s position put at risk substantial future savings, without offering reasonable alternatives.
--James Rainey and David Zahniser, reporting from the Fairfax district
Photo: Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel addresses supporters on Los Angeles mayoral primary night on March 5. Credit: David McNew / Getty Images