By ELIZABETH HSING-HUEI CHOU
City News Service
Hundreds of Los Angeles city workers embroiled in a labor dispute flooded streets around City Hall today to urge Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council to restore municipal services.
Fix L.A., a coalition that includes community groups and city employee unions, contends the city should redirect millions of dollars spent on fees for Wall Street banks to services instead. The protesters included sanitation workers who came out by the dozens in their trash trucks, blaring their horns. Secretaries, 911 dispatchers, traffic controllers and others chanted "banks got bailed out, we got sold out."
City leaders are engaged in labor negotiations with six unions, representing 19 bargaining units and at least 14,000 city employees, whose contracts expired last night. The unions represent a wide swath of non-sworn city employees, including construction workers, librarians and tree trimmers.
Contracts for police officers and firefighters also expired last night without labor agreements reached.
Garcetti and the council adopted a city budget last month that depends on city employees agreeing to pay 10 percent of their health-care premiums. The budget also calls for no raises.
"I have two kids and a family. It's going to affect me directly," city traffic controller Feng Li, 35, said.
Alice Goff, president of AFSCME 3090, which represents thousands of city clerical workers, said the unions are partnering with the community to demand that services be restored. Goff said the City Council "needs to do more about all of the fees it is paying to Wall Street banks. If not for those fees, funds could be rerouted to services cut during the recession."
"We are in negotiations but it's not simply about worker wages," Goff said. "We need enough staff to be able to provide necessary city services."
The protesters streamed into the council chamber to deliver petitions with 4,300 signatures calling on the city to renegotiate or terminate bad interest rate swap deals with Wall Street banks that are charging the city "costly" fees.
The City Council's Budget and Finance Committee on Monday instructed the City Attorney's Office to "evaluate" ways the city could avoid paying fees to Bank of New York Mellon and Dexia for deals to finance a wastewater infrastructure project.
Natalie Brill, a representative of the office of City Administrative Officer, advised against renegotiating or terminating the deals, saying the city entered into what was considered a "good deal" at the time, and that the alternative, a fixed rate deal, would not have saved the city any more money.
Cheryl Parisi, chair of the Coalition of LA City Unions, told the City Council today the 20,000 city employees they represent are "inextricably linked" to city services offered to Los Angeles residents.
"Our workers work every day to improve the quality of life in our community," Parisi said, "yet we are hamstrung," given that 5,000 employees were cut since the beginning of the Great Recession.
"We are bargaining to fix Los Angeles," she said. "What that means is a restoration of services."
City worker and Los Angeles resident Henry Gambill said, "As a librarian, I don't think it's right that we're giving away $300 million to Wall Street, while I don't have a children's librarian for seven months."