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Los Angeles Declares 'Fiscal Emergency' To Furlough Thousands Of City Workers

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City Hall from Grand Park on Tuesday March 24. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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The L.A. City Council on Wednesday declared a fiscal emergency, paving the way to approve buyouts for city employees and a furlough program for nearly 16,000 workers.

The council also voted on an amendment to negotiate a delay for raises called for in the current contract with the police department, but the effort failed.

The city needs to bridge a huge budget shortfall that’s only growing as COVID-19 continues to shrink tax revenues.

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The Mayor first proposed furloughing workers in his belt-tightening budget in April. The council, hoping to ward off furloughs, delayed those cuts in favor of a buyout program -- in other words, paying people to leave the city payroll. But the buyouts fell short of the city’s goal, and attracted just 1,277 employees, fewer than half the number needed to forestall furloughs.

That left the council between a rock and a hard place: on Wednesday, members voted to declare a fiscal emergency to allow them to proceed with cuts.

The resolution paints a dire picture: “[I]mmediate and comprehensive action to reduce current spending must be taken to ensure...that the essential services of the City are not jeopardized and public health and safety are preserved.”

The furloughs amount to a 10% pay cut for about 16,000 employees who will lose one day of work per pay period, exempting some groups including sanitation workers, firefighters, sworn police, librarians and the Department of Building and Safety.

“There will be service cuts this year,” said City Administrative Officer Rich Llewellyn during Wednesday’s meeting.

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The cuts are slated to begin Oct. 11 and go through June 20, 2021, which is expected to save $104.2 million.

But public employee unions representing city workers are preparing to fight the cuts.

“Furloughs are illegal under our labor contracts and in the middle of a pandemic that has already caused millions to become unemployed — furloughs are simply not a responsible solution,” SEIU Local 721 President Bob Schoonover said in a statement. The union is working with the city to identify other savings, he added.

Critics argue the situation is the result of poor fiscal management by the city, which last summer approved a new contract with the police department’s union, including pay raises and a new bonus program.

“You started digging this hole a year ago when you quietly rubber stamped those raises for LAPD,” said Rob Quan, the founder of the government reform group Unrig L.A. during Wednesday’s public comment period.

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A city employee who did not state her name pleaded with the council to find other ways to balance the budget.

“You’re not saving enough to make a dent,” she said during public comment. “I really suggest the council reconsider furloughing the employees who are going to keep the city afloat.”

Councilmember Mike Bonin presented an amendment requiring the city to open talks with LAPD’s union to delay police officer raises “until the City’s fiscal situation has improved.” The amendment failed in a 9-3 vote.

This story will be updated.