More than 2000 people rallied outside L.A. City Hall last weekend to support public employees who are under fire in Wisconsin. Afterward, L.A. Councilman Bernard Parks issued a statement of support, in which he tried to dispel “the common misperception out there that I am anti-union.”
Whether or not he's anti-union, the unions are certainly anti-him. Three labor groups have spent more than $1 million to defeat Parks next Tuesday. Why the hostility?
As with any toxic relationship, it's not about just one thing. Here, then, are the top 10 labor grievances against Bernard Parks. Whether these are good reasons or not is up for debate, but without them Parks' re-election next Tuesday would not be in doubt.
10. Grocery strike
While workers were picketing outside L.A.'s major grocery chains in 2003, Parks handed out vouchers for Vons, said Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770. The striking workers did not appreciate the gesture. “He has been completely against us,” Icaza said. “He's just an anti-union guy.” In 2005, Parks voted against an ordinance requiring grocery stores to retain their workers when they change ownership. (Update: Bernard Parks Jr. — Parks' son, campaign manager and chief of staff — defends the Vons turkey voucher giveaway: “All we did is present people an opportunity,” he said. “They can make a choice about whether it was more important to eat or more important to unite with the union. These folks are among the poorest in the city… There's nothing un-union about eating.”)
In 2004 and 2005, Parks was often the lone vote against an ordinance to prevent Wal-Mart “superstores” from opening in L.A. Wal-Mart, with its low wages and non-union workforce, is the Death Star of the labor movement. But fresh from the grocery strike, it was seen as a special threat to union grocery jobs.
8. LAPD Discipline
As chief, Parks was known as a strict disciplinarian. He says he fired 140 “problem officers.” The L.A. Police Protective League fought back on those officers' behalf, and says that many were reinstated. In 2002, 93% of LAPPL members gave Parks a vote of no confidence. Faced with community and police union complaints about Parks, Mayor Jim Hahn did not reappoint him.
7. Living wage
UNITE HERE Local 11 led a campaign in 2006 and 2007 to force hotels near Los Angeles International Airport to pay their employees a “living wage,” or at least $10 per hour. The council supported the ordinance on a vote of 10-3. Parks was one of the three dissenters. Parks was also the lone vote against an ordinance that would have preserved hotel workers' jobs during an ownership change.
6. Three twelves
Beginning in the mid-90s, the LAPD moved officers from a four-day work-week to a “flexible” schedule of three 12-hour days. The 3-12 system was intended to boost employee morale and reduce attrition, but Parks argued that it took officers off the beat. As chief and as a councilman, he has tried to eliminate it without success. “They want to work three days a week while you and I work seven,” Parks said at a recent debate.
5. Fresh & Easy
In 2010, Parks supported bringing a Fresh & Easy Market to South L.A. Neighbors complained about violations of the Crenshaw Specific Plan, but labor had a more bottom-line concern: Fresh & Easy – based in Britain – is non-union. “This is the Wal-Mart of England,” Icaza said. Of particular concern is Fresh & Easy's “self-checkout” system, which means fewer jobs for cashiers.
4. Police hiring and salaries
Parks has consistently opposed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to hire 1000 new police officers. He was also the lone vote against a police contract in 2003, which gave raises Parks believed were unaffordable. The LAPPL dubbed him “Bitter Bernie.” Bob Baker, past president of the LAPPL, was especially blunt in 2005: “His 'support' of the LAPD is like the husband who keeps beating his wife because, he says, he 'loves her.'”
Last fall, Parks floated a ballot measure to give the council control over Department of Water and Power pensions. He argued that benefits for new hires needed to be cut, but the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers smelled a council takeover. The IBEW packed the council chambers and booed Parks every time he spoke. “We cannot have pension reform in L.A. if we're not going to deal with the most generous pension in Los Angeles,” Parks said, before withdrawing the ballot measure in the face of heavy opposition.
2. Budget and layoffs
As chair of the City Council's Budget and Finance Commission, Parks has consistently urged more layoffs than his colleagues. Last year, he voted to pull a parking garage privatization deal out of the budget, which would have resulted in 1,000 additional layoffs. Union leaders allege that Parks' single-minded focus on cuts has led him to neglect basic services in his district. For instance, the SEIU claims that unleashed dogs are “roaming rampant in South L.A.” because of cuts to the Department of Animal Services.
1. Parks' pension
What drives union leaders most crazy about Parks is his lavish pension, which they perceive as a sign of hypocrisy. While Parks keeps up a drumbeat about cutting back public employee pensions, he collects a $270,000 city pension from his time as police chief. When challenged about it, his frequent reply is: “I earned it.” The union response is that so did other city employees – most of whom make a lot less than Parks.