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L.A. police and firefighters getting paid back the raises they gave up during COVID

“Restoring the wages police officers deferred to ensure city services were not cut during the global pandemic is the right thing to do.”

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Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS

By David Zahniser
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — It was the depths of the first COVID-19 winter surge. Tax revenues had tumbled in Los Angeles, and the city’s budget was in deep trouble.

Faced with the prospect of employee layoffs and other drastic measures, L.A.'s elected officials persuaded police officers, firefighters and thousands of other city employees to delay their scheduled raises for a year or more.

But that deal came with a caveat: If the state or federal government came through with a big financial rescue package, city leaders would be required to reopen talks with those same employees — opening the door for them to claw back those pay increases.

President Biden ultimately provided L.A. nearly $1.3 billion in relief. And over the past few months, city officials have quietly struck deals to restore those wages, providing cash payouts and other benefits that are expected to cost a combined $148 million across the city workforce.

The final agreement on the list, now heading to the City Council, represents nearly a third of those funds: $44.5 million in bonuses and other benefits for rank-and-file police officers represented by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the LAPD’s biggest union.

Under the agreement, officers would receive an upfront cash payment equal to 1.4% of their annual salary, according to a memo released Friday. They would also see a 4.5% bonus in their paychecks through the end of the year — retroactive to June 22 — and a boost in the city’s healthcare subsidy.

A vote has not yet been scheduled on the agreement. But Councilman Paul Koretz, who sits on the committee that negotiated the deal, spoke in favor of it, saying he felt obligated to restore pay increases for the city workforce once federal relief arrived.

Police officers, Koretz said, gave up raises “that we had no way to compel them to forgo.”

"[They] helped the city not wind up in a horrible situation,” he said.

Nevertheless, the plan to restore the raises of police officers drew criticism from Hamid Khan, an organizer with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which has repeatedly called for money to be shifted out of the Police Department and into social services.

Khan said money for police bonuses should have been allocated to youth programs instead.

“There should be more youth centers. There should be more after-school activities. There should be more investments in the school system as well, like art programs,” he said.

The LAPD union agreed in February 2021 to defer two raises — 1.5% and 3% — contained in their contract. At that time, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the council were exploring the possibility of borrowing $150 million simply to cover the city’s ongoing bills.

LAPD officers ratified the new bonus agreement earlier this month, with an overwhelming 86% voting in favor, said Tom Saggau, the union’s spokesman.

Craig Lally, the union’s president, issued a statement saying the deal will help slow the employee exodus out of the LAPD, which has lost more than 700 officers since the beginning of the pandemic — about 7% of the sworn workforce.

“Restoring the wages police officers deferred to ensure city services were not cut during the global pandemic is the right thing to do, especially in light of the substantial federal ... money the city received and the need to retain officers to combat our dire staffing levels,” Lally said in a statement.

According to the city’s memo, the new LAPD bonuses will not count toward their pensions.

City Administrative Officer Matt Szabo, the city’s top budget official, said council members put about $120 million into this year’s budget for the agreements with the city’s workforce, much of it labeled “payroll reconciliation.”

In June, council members signed off on a package of bonuses and benefits for the city’s firefighters, which is expected to cost $48 million over two years. That same day, council members unanimously approved nearly $2 million in payments to LAPD command staff.

Similar agreements were reached earlier this year with unions representing sanitation workers, gardeners, clerks and other city employees, Szabo said.

The deal to restore the police raises comes at a time of increased scrutiny of the relationship between the city’s elected officials and the Police Protective League, which frequently spends big on its chosen candidates. Several of this year’s candidates — many of them challengers to incumbents — signed pledges promising not to accept political money from the LAPD union.

The union spent more than $94,000 on campaign ads attacking labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez, who is seeking to unseat Councilman Mitch O’Farrell in the Nov. 8 election, according to Ethics Commission records. The Police Protective League put more than $92,000 into attack ads targeting community activist Eunisses Hernandez, who defeated Councilman Gil Cedillo in the June 7 primary election.

O’Farrell, who also sits on the city’s bargaining committee, declined to say whether he supports the salary agreement, saying through an aide that it was taken up during a closed-session meeting devoted to labor negotiations.

Dan Halden, an O’Farrell spokesman, said his boss more broadly wants to make sure that the LAPD has the resources and staffing necessary to address crime, while also bringing on unarmed specialists to respond to nonviolent calls.

Soto-Martinez, for his part, said he opposes the new deal with the police union — and the raises that were approved at the LAPD before the outbreak of COVID-19.

During the city’s salary negotiations in 2019 and 2021, “we made the incorrect decision to keep investing more into armed officers, while neglecting mental health and addiction care — which actually prevent crime,” Soto-Martinez said in a statement.

Like the Police Protective League, the city’s firefighter union has also supported the reelection campaigns of council members in recent years. In 2020, the union spent tens of thousands of dollars on mailers promoting council members Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez and John Lee, among others.

This year, the union largely focused its resources on first-time candidates.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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