LA WATCHDOG - “We have a unique power – we elect our bosses. It would be difficult to think of workers anywhere else who elect their bosses. We do. We must take advantage of it.” Alex Caputo-Pearl, President, United Teachers Los Angeles
Since the Los Angeles Times broke the story of the leaked recording of a racist and profanity laced meeting between three members of the City Council and Ron Herrera, the President of the politically powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the focus has been on our three elected officials, Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, and Kevin de Leon. Left relatively unscathed is Ron Herrera and County Fed.
The apparent purpose of the meeting was to discuss the redistricting of the City Council districts in a way that favored the Latino community, especially the Mexican-American community. In the era of identity politics, the three Councilmembers believed the Latino community was underrepresented because it constituted about half the City’s population but have only a quarter of the seats on the City Council.
And what better way to accomplish a favorable redistricting (gerrymandering) than to solicit the help of the most powerful political entity in the City and County, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor that represents 800,000 workers in both the public and private sectors of our economy.
Of course, Herrera, along with County Fed and its many unions, will want something in return for his help, not only with the gerrymandering of the fifteen Council Districts, but in assisting most of the members of the City Council in their election campaigns. But this may not be in the best interest of Angelenos.
This may result in favorable labor agreements that result in rivers of red ink as was the case in October of 2019 when the City Council approved a budget busting contract that resulted in a $1.5 billion hit to the City’s finances over the following four years. Or it may result in favorable legislation such as the approval of exclusive trash franchises (RecycLA) that resulted in a massive increase in hauling fees for apartment buildings but facilitated the unionization of the work force of the trash haulers. This was contrary to the semi-exclusive recommendation of the City Administrative Officer.
One solution to bust busting labor agreements is for the City Councill to pass an ordinance that would prohibit the City from entering contracts that result in a current or future deficit.
Another alternative that was endorsed by the Los Angeles Times is for the City to develop a Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) ordinance that would allow for greater transparency into labor negotiations and agreements. This would allow for an independent analysis of any tentative agreement and public hearings before any agreement can be ratified.
There is no doubt that Los Angeles is a union town. But maybe too much so where there is a need for the Ad Hoc Committee on City Governance Reform to level the playing field by discussing checks and balances to union power that benefit ordinary Angelenos.
(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. He can be reached at: [email protected].)