LA officials had hoped to fill vacant jobs in the city. The new plan? Eliminate them

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

LA officials had hoped to fill vacant jobs in the city. The new plan? Eliminate them

LA politics

David Zahniser

January 24, 2024

For over a year now

LA’s Los Angeles’

Political leaders have expressed alarm over the large number of vacant positions in the city government, saying the situation has seriously hampered their ability to provide services to their constituents.

At one point, labor shortages affected about a fifth of the country

the positions of the labor city

some on the city council began exploring the idea of ​​giving every new employee a hiring bonus.

Now a looming budget deficit, fueled in large part by new pay increases for public employees, could force council members to make an abrupt about-face, slowing hiring at many city agencies. In a seven-page report issued last week, City Manager Matt Szabo also recommended the city create a plan to eliminate all unfilled “non-critical” city positions.

Szabo, the city’s chief financial analyst, declined to say how many vacant positions should be cut from the budget. He said the city’s general budget, which pays for basic services, currently has more than 2,100 unfilled civilian positions, both critical and non-critical.

In his report, Szabo attributed the ongoing budget problems in part to lower-than-expected tax revenues from the city’s general fund, which were $158 million lower than expected for the current budget year. He also pointed to increased costs resulting from two new salary agreements: one with regular LAPD officers, the other with civilian employees represented by the Coalition of LA City Unions.

“The collective budget impacts of revenue shortfalls, overspending and the continued risk of an economic downturn require the city to take immediate action to reduce spending,” he said in his report.

The coalition agreement, which would result in seven wage increases over the next five years, has not yet been approved by the council members. If they sign that deal, and similar deals are planned for next year, the financial gap in the 2024-2025 budget could be as much as $400 million, Szabo’s report said.

“The additional, unbudgeted expenditure associated with the coalition will likely be more than what many departments can absorb,” he wrote.

Under the proposal, public safety positions would be considered critical, with police, fire and the Bureau of Sanitation largely or completely off limits. Positions related to building inspections, library services, the airport, the port and the Ministry of Water and Energy would also be exempt due to their different funding sources.

The push to reduce workforces, on the other hand, could impact agencies that handle city planning, park maintenance, engineering, city building maintenance and youth development, among other things, Szabo said.

The City Council Budget Committee will take up Szabo’s recommendations Wednesday, and more discussion is planned at Friday’s council meeting.

So far, the proposal has met some resistance.

Councilman Hugo Soto-Martnez, who sits on the city’s personnel committee, disagreed with the idea that certain positions should be spared, arguing that every city agency should be treated the same. That means, he said, the council should seriously look at eliminating the approximately 300 police officer positions currently vacant.

Soto-Martnez said in an interview that his voters have a very different view of which services are crucial and which are not. He also argued that the proposed job cuts could have been avoided if the council had rejected a package of LAPD raises last summer.

“That’s why I voted no,” he said. “I said, ‘If we give these exorbitant raises, every other bargaining unit will ask for the same thing.’ And that’s exactly what happens.”

Mayor Karen Bass negotiated the police contract last summer, arguing that cost-of-living increases and higher starting salaries would help hire staff in a department that now has fewer than 9,000 officers, down from about 1,000 in the past five year. Three council members Nithya Raman, Eunisses Hernandez and Soto-Martnez voted against, calling the deal financially irresponsible.

Szabo’s latest budget report reflects the volatile nature of the city’s hiring decisions in recent years. In 2020, facing a budget crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, the council agreed to provide approximately 1,300 employees with up to $80,000 for retirement benefits.

The following year, the city received a windfall, with the federal government providing more than $1.2 billion in COVID-19 rescue funds. Tax revenues recovered in the months that followed. By 2022, city agencies began to discover that rebuilding the city workforce was a difficult task.

Last year, officials from the city’s human resources department nearly reported that

one in five 1 in 5

jobs remained unfilled, with high vacancies at agencies providing street lighting, waste disposal, animal control, urban planning and many other services. City Comptroller Kenneth Mejia estimated the number around in a separate report

one in six 1 in 6


Mejia responded to Szabo’s report in a statement issued Tuesday by encouraging city leaders to develop a five-year strategic plan to address its troubled finances.

“Without a long-term approach to putting our fiscal house in order, short-term decisions will condemn Los Angeles to an inexorable decline in public services, undermining our quality of life and the economic prospects of our residents,” he said.

Asked about Mejia’s comments, Bass spokesman Zach Seidl said that “theatrical exaggeration and doomsday predictions do not reflect the city’s current budget status.” Bass believes the city has the ability to balance its budget, provide services and pay its employees a living wage.

he said.

Seidl also defended the decision to give pay increases to police officers.

“In a city of more than 3 million people, the most responsible thing we can do is invest in the safety of Angelenos,” he said in an email.

For his part, Szabo said the job cuts proposal could have “minimal immediate impact” on the services sector. However, the cuts could impact city departments’ plans to improve services or launch new programs, he said in his report.

The cuts plan comes weeks before the council is expected to vote on the package of increases with the Coalition of LA City Unions, which represents six labor groups, the largest of which is Service Employees International Local 721.

which represents custodians, mechanics, traffic officers and many other workers

. The deal would increase the cost of living by more than 24% over five years.

David Green, president of SEIU Local 721, said the planned package of raises will make “major strides” in recruitment and retention. In a statement, he said he looks forward to working with city leaders to “shape hiring priorities” and find new funding sources.

Angelenos deserve reliable and consistent city services, and that is exactly what we fought for at the bargaining table,” he said.

Soto-Martnez, for his part, said he was willing to vote in favor of the coalition contract. These six unions got a “fair deal based on precedent”


under the LAPD’s contract last summer, he said.

“I will absolutely support this deal because I don’t believe we should treat workers differently,” he said.


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