Thu, Jun

A 2014 LA Gut-Check: Paying for Past City Cowardice and an Uncivil Service


ALPERN AT LARGE-We live in a world of ridiculous "connections":  question governmental decisions and policies and you're a traitor or gadfly, question a governmental leader and you're a hater, question whether modern corporate policies are sustainable or equitable and you're a communist, question our immigration policy and you're a racist, etc.  Now it's "question your police or DWP unions" and you disrespect our first-responders and you're against middle-class jobs. 

In other words, "shut up and take it" because we're "doing fine" and "we can afford it".  The taxpayers aren't broke and tapped out, they're just selfish--because the economy's in a "recovery mode". 

So when the LAPD union claims it's officers are underpaid and being taken for granted, and will leave without a raise, it's the City Council's fault...it's the Mayor's fault...and, connecting the dots...it's OUR fault. 

Brian D'Arcy and the IBEW are sending the DWP's credibility and the City's residents' finances and quality of life straight to Hades, and demand more money--while the City's century-old water and other infrastructure is falling apart, and yet it's the City Council's fault, the Controller's fault, the Mayor's fault...and, connecting the dots...it's OUR fault. 

And the Employee Relations Board unanimously votes against the City Council's attempt to restore fiscal balance because, after a decade of cowardice, it showed management and leadership skills yet didn't have union blessing...and it's the Council's fault...and the Mayor's fault...and, connecting the dots...it's OUR fault. 

Which either underscores the reason why FDR didn't want public sector unions, or underscores our modern reality that our current union leadership is as deleterious to modern society as is our current large corporate and Wall Street leadership. 

The issues that public sector union leadership---and ALL union leadership, and corporate/Wall Street leadership, for that matter--could and should be honing in on are tied to the untruthfulness of how "inflation is down" and "unemployment is down". 

Yet if either the union or corporate leadership confront and openly address the issues of why a single job won't cut it anymore...and if they were to bring up inefficient energy costs and policy, and ill-advised employment and environmental policies...the unwholesome "connection" of being anti-environment, anti-jobs, anti-whatever would likely be rammed down their throat. 

And, perhaps, there are some unholy alliances between those who jack up the costs of energy, water and infrastructure with those public sector unions who should be fostering a CIVIL service, not an UNCIVIL service. Slapping around, and shaking down, the taxpayers and ratepayers is not the same as dedicating one's life to their representation and quality of life (and demanding a fair reimbursement and retirement in return). 

We don't have enough City firefighters  and we lost years and even decades of City tax revenues to repair our roads, by giving past and present City employees (including the LAPD, DWP and other valued and necessary employees) raises between 200-2009 that we couldn't afford then, and can't afford now. 

So when City employees of any type claim they're being disrespected, or when one group of employees start trying to cannibalize another group of employees (like when the Police Unions tried to sharply reduce if not destroy our City Library system), it's NOT about the City Council, Mayor, or taxpayers disrespecting or hating the police or any other valued group of City employees. 

It's NEVER been about that, it never WOULD be about that.  Who but a nincompoop would ever undervalue what a police officer, firefighter, librarian, park/recreation supervisor, etc. does? 

But as the taxpayers continue to either have flat or falling wages, and increasingly wonder if they'll EVER retire, it's safe to say that any public sector or private sector union, or any corporate leadership, that demands a historically-high and guaranteed pay/retirement at others' expense is not being realistic or fair. 

And perhaps the examples of the horrific givebacks and sacrifices needed for Detroit and the Auto Industry Bailout would best be remembered. 

Running to the exits with your piece of the public or private stash while the world falls apart around you is no more unwise a tactic than a run on the bank which creates an economic crisis.  It's understandable, but it's dangerous and it's frighteningly short-sided. 

As a physician who COULD make more to work elsewhere--and work fewer hours to boot--but choose not to because I love where and with whom I work, I understand the feelings of being shortchanged:  after all, I work multiple jobs to do what others in my profession do in one.   

But my profession must live within its means, and the whole darned healthcare system has so many ways to reduce costs it's frightening. 

Ditto with the economic costs of being so "pro-environment" that we don't have enough cost-effective energy and water to make our utility costs as cheap as they should be (we're so used to paying more right now, that the thought of paying one-half to one-third of what we currently pay is probably alien to us). 

But being in favor of reduced costs for health care and utility costs is NOT the same as hating health care workers and/or hating the environment and/or hating utility workers.  It's just a compromise between paying more to get more, and not wanting to pay more than is reasonable or necessary. 

And offering overtime and other measures as ways for LAPD and other valued City employees to get more money-- without exacerbating our pension crisis--is as smart as asking private sector employees to work 40+ hours a week to save costs in that part of the economy as well. 

It's an imperfect world, and a world where courageous yet intellectually-honest choices must be made.  We don't need police officers, teachers, utility workers, health care workers, or anyone else to ram the blackmailing line of "give us more money or we'll label you as a hater" down our collective throat. 

Mayor Garcetti and the City Council have the unpleasant job of undoing some bad decisions over the previous decade (many of which these very same individuals made).  That takes courage...but how else are we going to pay for our overdue road repairs, cracking sewage/water pipe repairs, and an expanding mass transit alternative to our congested freeways? 

Saving money by allowing salaries to actually mean something--like cutting costs on blazingly high utility and health care costs--and by taking our pension crisis seriously, is the best way to resolve the demands of valued public sector and other workers without having to politically browbeat--and even blackmail--elected leaders who are trying to show faith with their constituents. 

Good government, good leadership, and a return to a truly civil service--now THAT's a connection we can all live with.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected] .   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us.  The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.







Vol 12 Issue 62

Pub: Aug 1, 2014











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