Labor rallies against secession in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Over 1,000 union members, community activists and concerned residents jammed the auditorium of Los Angeles Valley College on June 22 to denounce two proposed city secession initiatives that will appear on November’s ballot. If passed by the voters, both the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood districts would break away from the City of Los Angeles and form two separate cities.

The anti-secession rally, which was co-sponsored by the LA County Federation of Labor, kicked off what promises to be a fierce campaign against the ballot proposals. A number of political, labor, and community leaders took to the stage to voice their concerns about secession.

Many fear that the new cities, not being bound by any union contracts, would try to slash payrolls by contracting out city jobs or reducing salaries or benefits. In addition, there is no guarantee that they would continue to honor current LA city laws regarding rent control, living wages and anti-discrimination protections.

“Over and over again, we’ve been able to introduce progressive legislation in Los Angeles. That may not be the case in a new city,” said Miguel Contreras, head of the LA County Federation of Labor.

Former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, whose mayoral campaign last year garnered strong support from organized labor, pleaded with the audience to join him to “save Los Angeles.”

“Many of the people in this room come from corners all over the earth”, remarked Villaraigosa. “The reason this city is so special is because of the diversity of the people in it. You don’t break up the family just because there’s a problem. You have to work together to solve your differences.”

In a show of unity, Villaraigosa was joined at the podium by his opponent in last year’s election, current LA Mayor James Hahn.

“The secession supporters say breaking away will help taxpayers and make government more efficient. But nothing can be further than the truth,” said Hahn. “City services will be cut or lost, and I think we’ll lose many protections for seniors and workers if this city breaks up. The people who are selling [the initiatves] are selling snake oil.”

Thousands of union members are expected to pitch in as volunteers for the November campaign, ready to staff phone banks or walk precincts.

“We have been talking to our members for well over a year on this, and I have yet to find a city worker who thinks secession is a good idea,” said Julie Butcher, general manager of the Service Employees International Union Local 347, which represents over 9,000 city workers. The city’s police and firefighter unions also oppose secession.

The author can be reached at RayLeos@aol.com