L.A. city workers protest furlough plan

LOS ANGELES The workers, members of the /*Coalition of L.A. City Unions*/, began their march at Hill Street between First and Temple streets. Many chanted slogans and carried signs that said "A Better Way for L.A."

Union members then crowded into the council chamber. Many of them spoke during the public comment portion of the council's regular meeting, amid loud cheers from their supporters.

Stephanie Shelley, a deputy dispatcher for the /*Los Angeles Police Department*/, said the furloughs would affect public safety.

"God help us if you don't make a wise decision," she told council members.

Michael Duran, a deputy city attorney who is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, said that instead of furloughs, the council should offer early retirement to about 3,000 senior employees, which he contended could save the city between $100 million and $196 million.

The coalition comprises six unions representing nearly 22,000 city workers, including trash truck drivers, librarians, 911 operators, traffic control officers and after-school program recreation workers.

The workers' union is negotiating to give senior employees up to three years of work credits, so that they can "virtually" reach the milestone of 30 years in service, or age 55.

The mayor's office has said that the union's early retirement proposal would impact as many as 2,300 workers and cost the city $850 million over 15 years.

In addition to the planned furlough days, the city's $7 billion budget also calls for 1,600 layoffs to help offset the budget deficit.

The City Council last Wednesday authorized a furlough plan that would likely shut down most city offices every other Friday in hopes of achieving $100 million in savings. The plan is set to take effect at the beginning of the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

On Monday, City Administrative Officer Ray Ciranna testified before the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee that 1,200 of the positions slated for layoffs were already vacant, and only 76 more needed to be eliminated because many general managers found vacancies for employees set for layoffs.

"What we have seen is that departments have gotten very creative in finding ways to move people. They're now saying that of the original 400, only 76 -- at this point -- need to go out the door," Ciranna said.

He said some employees were transferred to the Department of Water and Power, Los Angeles World Airports and the Port of Los Angeles. Each of these city agencies has a budget separate from the city's.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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