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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Labor Unions Skeptical Of Riordan Pension Reform Plan

Danny Lee |
October 15, 2012 | 4:14 p.m. PDT

Senior Staff Reporter

Newly hired city workers could see their retirement age go up under Riordan's plan. (Kansas Sebastian/Creative Commons)
Newly hired city workers could see their retirement age go up under Riordan's plan. (Kansas Sebastian/Creative Commons)
A plan by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to overhaul the city's pension system has drawn the ire of some city employees.

The battle over retirement packages was re-ignited when Riordan announced his plans on Friday to launch a ballot initiative that would cut government pensions for newly hired city employees and enroll them in a 401(k) program, if approved by voters next spring. Riordan, who predicted that the city's pension costs could balloon by $442 million over the next four years, had voiced concern in the past that the city's retirement costs could have it spiraling into bankruptcy.

The plan would also prohibit employees from receiving a city pension while earning a city salary. Supporters of Riordan's proposal need to collect roughly 255,000 signatures for the initiative to qualify for the May 21, 2013 ballot. Union members have ramped up efforts to convince the public not to support the petition.

"We'll get out there and explain to people exactly what the real truth is," said Ian Thompson, a representative from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). "Richard Riordan and folks like that do deceptive things to get people to sign petitions and get them to think they're doing the public a service. There's nothing good that can come out of this."

Thompson said the organization held an emergency meeting over the weekend to begin mobilizing members who will head out to supermarkets across the city and spread awareness of the petition.

SEE ALSO: Why L.A. Unions Are Comparing Antonio Villaraigosa To Scott Walker

"We want to tell them not to sign a petition circulated by paid petition gatherers that would take away the retirement security for working families, but instead, to stand with these working families," Thompson said.

The initiative proposed by the 82-year-old former mayor counters the plan outlined by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, which would raise the retirement age for new city employees up from 55 to 65. The retirement benefits for new hires would be capped at 75 percent of their salary if they retire after turning 65.

Riordan's plan would also cut health benefits for the retirees' dependents while changes outlined under Villaraigosa's plan would exempt firefighters, police officers and Department of Water and Power employees.

Neither proposal appears to be gaining traction. Thompson, citing the burden both plans could pose on middle class residents who live and work in the city, compared Villaraigosa's plan to a stroke and Riordan's to a heart attack.

"They're both bad plans that are end runs around collective bargaining," Thompson said. "Both of these plans are illegal and they shouldn't go into force. 401(k)'s always come up more costly and are much more risky."

Drawing inspiration from the Occupy movement, Thompson said fighting back the retirement benefit reform plan would allow "the 99 percent who work every day for a living" to send a message to the 1 percent.

"Whether you're a student, worker, or if you have or don't have a pension, you should stand with the city workers here," he said. "These are people who you see and interact with every day who keep the city functioning."


Read more Neon Tommy stories on pension reform here.

Reach Senior Staff Reporter Danny Lee here; follow him on Twitter here.



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