The financially-strapped city of Los Angeles has just given a 5.5 percent raise to at least 13,000 union workers, giving them on average a staggering total of 24.5 percent in hikes in seven years.
The pay increase beginning January 1 for the majority of workers with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions was the final raise under a contract negotiated with the city in 2007, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The coalition, consisting of six separate unions representing non-public-safety employees such as clerks, gardeners, and mechanics, is now set to start a new round of salary talks with the city because the contract expires in the summer.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who took over the office in May from Antonio Villaraigosa, faces a tough battle on his hands to keep to his campaign promise that he would not be pressured by City Hall unions or special interest groups in his decision making.
The 2007 contract has proved a financial hardship for L.A. as it struggles to balance the books, and in April Villaraigosa asked the coalition to give up the 5.5 percent increase, noting that it would save the city $108 million during the current fiscal year.
But the coalition steadfastly refused, claiming that the money had already been allocated though a special fund set up in the ex-mayor's budget. And City Council members, including Garcetti, admitted that they had no leg to stand on to prevent the raise.
"The city is legally obligated to honor previously negotiated contracts," Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb told the Times earlier this week. "Mayor Garcetti will negotiate new contracts that save money and bring reform."
The city, which has reduced the size of its workforce by 5,300 employees in the past few years, is desperate to save money while projecting that it will have a deficit of $250 million next year.
But Victor Gordo, an attorney with the coalition, said the group had already made more than its fair share of sacrifices in the last five years, notably taking unpaid furlough days and contributing 4 percent of their salaries toward their retirement health plans.
"Coalition members contributed greatly to solving the city's financial crisis at the worst point in the recession," he said.
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