03 May 2011
- Written by Julie Butcher
BUDGET ALERT - Back in the late 1980’s, when I was a young union organizer, I applied for a job representing city workers. Before my interview, I decided it’d be a good idea to learn more about how the workers did their jobs, so I took to the streets and started to watch them work.
One sunny day, on a forgotten downtown corner, I saw an angry man discover a parking ticket on the windshield of his BMW. The female traffic officer who’d just written the ticket was standing nearby. “Hey, how 'bout I give you fifty bucks to take back this ticket?” the man asked.
“Now let me calculate,” the female officer replied. “I've got 18 years left on this job. I make $38,000 a year. I figure you gotta offer me more like $700 thousand to make it worth it!”
The man laughed, took his ticket and even said “thank you.” Eventually I learned that what that female officer did that day is called “fogging.” Fogging, or replying to angry motorists in a manner that takes the tension out of the situation, can take years of on-the-job training to learn and traffic officers treat it as an art form.
Traffic officers who enforce the city’s parking regulations have an incredibly tough job. Officer Henry Medina was killed in Hollywood in 1997 while impounding an illegally parked car in Hollywood. Everyday officers like him keep LA's traffic moving by enforcing parking regulations and directing traffic. They are truly on the front lines of public safety and service.
They do it all and they do it 24/7.
Now LA Department of Transportation General Manager Amir Sedadi has proposed replacing some of these dedicated officers with a mob of 100 part-timers whom he intends to pay “$16 an hour with no benefits.” This idea has been proposed at least six times in recent memory, and each time traffic officers have successfully made the case for why it’s short-sighted and irresponsible.
Before they are hired, full-time civil service traffic officers must pass a series of rigorous tests. Their training is thorough. Both are critical to ensuring public trust and safety
What’s more, traffic officers have repeatedly demonstrated that because they spend their lives on our city streets, they play a crucial role in improving our communities. For example, several years ago traffic officers proposed taking on new responsibilities for finding and returning stolen vehicles. As they cruise the streets all day, they see these vehicles and make sure they get towed and returned to their owners—before they’re stripped and turned into scrap metal.
Today Los Angeles picks up twice the number of vehicles as it used to in half the time and with half the personnel—all because full-time, trained and committed traffic officers are doing their parts to keep our neighborhoods free of blight.
This is the direction we should be heading. Instead, the general manager’s plan would take us down a road filled with the sort of mischief one sees all the time with a temporary, unaccountable workforce: nepotism, corruption and secret quotas.
To keep our streets moving and free of this sort of avarice and whim, we must continue to hire full-time traffic officers via a vigorous, competitive, transparent process.
And that’s no fog.
(Julie Butcher is Regional Director at SEIU Local 721.) -cw
Vol 9 Issue 35
Pub: May 3, 2011