LA unions launch 'Riordan Signature Busters' to stop pension proposal

Workers canvassing at farmers markets are usually paid per signature to ensure a measure gets on the ballot. City of LA union workers claim ex-Mayor Richard Riordan will use a similar tactic to get a pension reform measure on the May ballot. CUESA/Flickr/Creative Commons

It’s a strategy rarely employed, but labor unions representing Los Angeles city workers are trying to stop people from gathering signatures for former Mayor Richard Riordan, who is seeking to place a pension reform proposal on the May ballot.

“The one-percent are at it again,” says a notice from the Service Employees International Union, Local 721, calling to its members for volunteers.  “Multi-millionaire Richard Riordan and his billionaire friends are leading the attack against city workers. They are spending millions to place an initiative on the May 2013 ballot that would slash our retirement benefits.”

A union spokesman said Riordan has hired “mercenaries” to collect signatures, and that city workers would stand next to them outside grocery stores and other venues offering counter arguments and handing out literature. He said the strategy has been effective. 

“By-and-large, people will listen,” SEIU spokesman Ian Thompson said. “People just don’t want to deal with the fact that two people are telling them conflicting stories.”

Riordan must collect about 265,000 signatures to qualify his proposal for the May election.

Under his plan, city workers would have to contribute substantially more to their retirement plans; it would place all newly hired city employees into a 401(k)-style system; and it would freeze automatic pension increases when the city’s pension fund investments are not doing well.

The former mayor has warned L.A. could go bankrupt if it doesn’t adopt his plan. Some city officials and labor unions agree workers should pay more into the pension system, but say Riordan is overstating the problem.

The union notice to its members calls for an all-out counter-offensive against the plan, beginning with a rally this Saturday.

“We'll rally, BBQ and then hit the streets as 'Riordan Signature Busters' to urge people not to sign Riordan's petition,” the notice states. “We can stop him and save our pensions.”