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Union members split on city contract

April 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A split vote by Los Angeles union workers Wednesday could have far-reaching consequences. Thousands of city employees are now facing long furloughs after rejecting a contract proposal by Mayor Villaraigosa. Many workers say it was a "lose-lose" proposition.

"Employees who failed to ratify the agreement are once again subject to furloughs, and those furloughs start today," said L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Tough words from Villaraigosa after tough negotiations with several labor unions. A number of them, including 911 operators and traffic officers, voted against a new contract.

"We presented to our employees a clear and distinct choice, a choice between stability and uncertainty; a choice between moving ahead or falling behind," said Villaraigosa.

Others who did not approve the contract include clerical workers and deputy city attorneys, about 6,000 people altogether. Those who voted against the contract now face six more furlough days by the end of the fiscal year, ending on June 30, then 36 more furlough days next year. In addition, retiree health benefits will be capped.

"Neither of these are great solutions, but that's what happens in tough times. You have one that is less bad than the other," said L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti.

The unions that accepted the agreement include librarians and truck drivers. They will see a pay cut of about 1.5 percent and will also have to pay for retiree healthcare for the first time. They say it was a difficult decision.

"This agreement was a tough pill to swallow," said city truck operator Tim Butcher. "The sacrifices we're going to make are -- it's going to cost us."

"Today 80 percent of the workers have said, 'We want to pull in the same direction. We want to protect services for the people of Los Angeles,'" said Victor Gordo, secretary-treasurer of Laborers' International Union of North America.

This contract does not include police or firefighters who are negotiating separately.

"We're going to balance this budget. Take that to the bank," said Villaraigosa.

But not just yet. Since several unions did not agree to the contract the mayor isn't sure how much money will be saved, how much the deficit will be reduced, or what the final budget numbers will be.