The recently ratified agreement between the City of Los Angeles and the Coalition of LA City Unions, representing 20,000 City workers, is much more than a deal on wages and benefits. And the road to getting there included much more than a series of meetings with two sides passing proposals across a table. This process and resulting agreement reach far beyond the walls of City Hall and take significant steps to address the broad needs of all Angelenos and our neighborhoods, which have been suffering in the wake of the recession.
Los Angeles was not immune to the damage caused by Wall Street’s crashing of the economy. In an effort to stabilize the City budget, L.A. officials turned first and foremost to its workforce for cost-saving solutions. City workers stepped forward and made very real sacrifices, such as increasing worker pension contributions to the highest in the state; accepting more costly healthcare co-pays in order to lower healthcare costs; and taking voluntary early retirement. Five thousand jobs were cut, leading to severe cuts to City programs and services.
The ramifications of these cutbacks extended into our neighborhoods. Trees went untrimmed, alleyways were strewn with uncollected trash, cracked sidewalks were neglected and school intersections went unguarded, compromising quality of life and public safety. Middle-class City jobs, which for decades provided a higher standard of living for tens of thousands of people and brought new opportunity to communities of color, were put at risk.
Thus was born “Fix LA,” a movement that calls attention to the causes of L.A.’s economic hardship and puts a face on the serious impacts to communities. Over the course of a year, faith and community leaders, City workers and neighborhood groups united to create public awareness of the toll of the crash brought on by Wall Street’s abusive practices. We demonstrated at big banks to highlight their culpability in the crash of Wall Street and to their bad faith dealings with the City of Los Angeles. We held media events across Los Angeles to shine a spotlight on the unmet needs of neighborhoods. Our message has been simple: It’s time to fix L.A.
City workers took those issues and concerns to heart and to the bargaining table. As part of its proposals, the Coalition of City Unions raised items that affected workers and residents alike. The Coalition platform included ideas aimed at improving services to residents, holding big banks accountable, creating jobs and job-training programs for residents and devising cost-saving and revenue-enhancing opportunities for the City.
The agreement between the City of Los Angeles and the Coalition of LA City workers is a true win-win. The newly ratified contract calls for the City to hire an additional 5,000 civilian workers by Fiscal Year 2017-18 and create a Strategic Workforce Development Task Force to oversee the process. The ripple effect of this provision is immeasurable. It represents true outreach to a local workforce, providing job training and access to quality civil service jobs. In turn, communities will begin to see a restoration of services.
The agreement also improves transparency of the City’s outsourcing contracts by establishing a public online database of City contracts and adding good government practices. Under the agreement, the City Council will establish a Commission on Revenue Generation, which will develop recommendations for raising City revenue through means such as enforcement of blight ordinances, commercial property reassessments and tax loopholes and other mechanisms. In addition the agreement protects quality, middle-class jobs by ending overuse of part-time workers, safeguarding health care and preserving retirement security, all in a fiscally responsible manner.
With the economy recovering, and the City possessing the greatest reserve fund in its history, it’s time to rebuild and restore the essential jobs and services that have been decimated over the last eight years. Our communities deserve no less.
Reverend William D. Smart Jr. is president and CEO at Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.
Alice Goff is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3090 and District Council 36.