Thousands of County Workers Demand ‘Past Due’ Raises

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Thousands of unionized county workers in purple and yellow T-shirts gathered downtown Tuesday to push for raises as the Board of Supervisors considers a proposed $24.7 billion budget for the coming year.

After five years of deficits – soaring as high as $491.6 million in 2010-11 – and cuts averaging 15 percent across all county departments, the draft budget for fiscal 2013-14 is balanced, Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka told the board. It relies only on ongoing revenues rather than one-time reserves.

“This is an exceptional story for the county of Los Angeles,” Fujioka said, especially when compared with bankruptcies and fiscal crises elsewhere in the state.

County employees, who have gone without a cost of living raise for at least four years, say it’s now time.

Lillian Cabral, a Service Employees International Union member, has worked for the county for 35 years and said it would be 11 years before she was eligible to retire with benefits.

“I have sacrificed long enough, living paycheck to paycheck, robbing Paul to pay Peter,” Cabral told the board, saying some workers lost their homes to foreclosure, while others were barely hanging on. “Give us what we have sacrificed and worked hard for.”

Cabral and others wore T-shirts reading “Turn it Up.”

Regina Mims, a clerk for the Sheriff’s Department, said “we’re ‘turning it up’ this year to fight for raises.”

She was among hundreds of people waiting for access to the board hearing room, carrying flags saying “Pay Raise” and “Past Due.”

Employees say they have been stretched thin, asked to do more work as the county eliminated 2,100 unfilled positions during hard times, though no one was laid off.

“In 2013, come hell or hell water, there will be a raise for SEIU workers,” Michael Green, Los Angeles County regional director for SEIU Local 721, told the board.

“It’s important that we recognize the partnership between our labor partners and the county,” Supervisor Michael Antonovich said, adding that “we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Antonovich and Fujioka said the county faced two major challenges in terms of predicting expenses: the impact of the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1, 2014 and unanticipated costs related to shifting jail populations under Assembly Bill 109.

Though the ex-convicts released from state prisons have been classified as non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual offenders, some have not lived up to that billing, while a large percentage have significant mental health needs, he said.

But economic growth, lower interest rates and declining caseloads are all expected to contribute to a better overall economic picture for the county. The draft budget assumes about 2.9 percent growth in property tax revenues and a 4 percent increase in sales taxes.

SEIU board member David Green said the cost of living had risen 10 percent during the time county workers had gone without a raise. More than half of SEIU Local 721 members earn less than $45,000, Green said, a figure equivalent to what a single parent needs to support two children, according to a research paper he distributed.

Contract negotiations begin in June for SEIU workers. At a news conference yesterday, Fujioka said recent meetings with public safety unions included discussions about possible cost of living increases, but he declined to say more, citing labor negotiations.

Whether or not raises are negotiated, Fujioka laid the groundwork for what may be difficult discussions on pension benefits.

“Our current healthcare benefit is not sustainable given the size of the unfunded (pension) liability,” Fujioka told the board. Retirement benefits are funded at 77 percent – a gap representing billions of dollars – and would have to be looked at “in a very critical way,” he said.

More public hearings on the budget are set to begin May 15.

Police Release Video Footage of Necklace-Nabbing Robber

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Police Wednesday released video footage in hopes of identifying a man who robbed a woman of a gold necklace by pulling it from her neck in Boyle Heights, and who may be responsible for similar crimes in the area.

The robbery occurred about 6 p.m. on April 8 in the area of East Eighth Street and Evergreen Avenue, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Nearby surveillance cameras show the man arriving in a dark blue 1993 to 1995 Chevrolet Blazer, pulling the gold chain from the woman’s neck and fleeing in the same vehicle, police said.

He’s described as Hispanic, in his early 30s, 5 feet 7 to 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing about 180 pounds.

The Blazer had mag rims, chrome door handles and a side view mirror.

Anyone with information was asked to call Detective Miguel Barajas at (323) 342-8991. The video can be seen at www.lapdtv.org.

Boyle Heights NC Meeting Tonight: Discussion on New Marijuana Dispensary

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council will hold an executive committee/general board meeting tonight, April 18, from 6:15 pm to 8pm., where they will  discuss and take possible action on several issues including  a new marijuana dispensary located at 2617 Cesar E. Chavez. The board is also considering sending letters to the Los Angeles City Council in support of the CA Drivers Licenses resolution, and to request more trash cans and pet waste receptacles and trees on major Boyle Heights streets.

Other items on the agenda include considering approval of Neighborhood Purposes Grants, and electing new members to the council.

The meeting will take place at the Aliso Pico Recreation Center, 370 S. Clarence Street, LA 90033. See the agenda at http://bhnc.net/wp-content/uploads/docs/ExecA_2013-04-18.pdf

Man Killed in Lincoln Heights Apparent Gang-related Shooting

April 18, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Authorities Monday investigated the apparent gang- related shooting death of a man in the Lincoln Heights area. The man, in his 20s, died at a hospital a short time after the crime, which occurred about 12:20 p.m. April 14 in the 2500 block of Eastlake Avenue, said Los Angeles police Officer Bruce Borihanh of the Media Relations office.

Authorities withheld his name, pending notification of his relatives. Officers sought a gray Honda, possibly an Accord, that was seen leaving the area.

Suspected Drunk Driver Crashes into City Terrace Home

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A man lost control of his red pickup truck that overturned and crashed into a home in the City Terrace area of East Los Angeles late Sunday night, a California Highway Patrol officer said.

The crash was reported at 10:22 p.m. on April 14 in the 3500 block of Blanchard Street, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Patrick Kimball in the Traffic Management Center.

“The vehicle overturned into the house and the husband held him down until the CHP got there,” Kimball said. “Officers at the scene said the driver had been drinking.”

A news photographer at the scene said the truck crashed through a wrought iron fence and damaged the yard before sliding into the house, and that those areas appeared to bear the brunt of the damage.

No injuries were reported, Kimball said. There were indications the truck struck several vehicles before hitting the house.

Editorial Cartoon

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s Time for Immigration Reform

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As Californians, we are proudly co-authoring Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 8 (Correa). It is a bi-partisan resolution urging Congress and the President to pass an immigration reform bill which includes a path to legalization and a reasonable and timely path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States.

The United States has been enriched by the strength and culture of immigrants who have come here from all over the world, and there is no reason to believe that has changed.

California has a long standing tradition of bucking the status quo and tackling complicated issues. It’s our job as elected officials to change the status quo when it’s clearly not working.

There is no question that our current immigration system is broken. It is well past the time for Congress to reform our immigration laws in a compassionate, practical way that addresses the contributions of 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States as well as the public safety and fiscal needs of our communities.

The federal government also needs to establish a fair path to citizenship. Immigrants work, pay taxes, and want to pursue the American Dream. There is nothing wrong with this and our federal policies should reflect a desire to make that happen. Immigration reform is simply the right thing to do.

SJR 8 urges Congress and the President to enact comprehensive immigration reform which includes a path to citizenship for immigrants already working in the United States. It also states that the action taken by Congress should address background checks, a demonstrated proficiency in English and payment of any back taxes owed.

The Republican Party has always believed in opportunity for all, and it is time we put words into action. Opportunity for all means ensuring a reasonable path to legalization for our immigrant population so that those who come to this country can adopt the best part of the American experience – freedom, entrepreneurship and self-reliance.

Leaving home is hard. Turning our backs on those who came here for a better life does nothing but create mistrust and fear. Our immigration policies should recognize that immigrants of all nationalities are a vital part of our society, our national economy and our national identity.

We are encouraged by the work we’re finally seeing on this issue at the federal level. This is our opportunity to show Congress and the President just how much immigration reform means to California.

It’s time to recognize the hard work and contributions of our immigrant population. Remember, nearly all of us, or our own forbearers, were once immigrants to this great country.

These Republicans Senators represent the following counties: Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Mono, Monterey, Orange, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Tuolumne.


Immigration Reform is Key to a New Economy

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A month ago, more than 150 business and civic leaders descended on our nation’s capital to make the case for policies, initiatives and funding priorities to improve our local and national economy. Though we advocated on many fronts, one of our top priorities was Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR).

We painted a picture of how CIR can unlock our nation’s economy’s potential. The expansion of H-1B visas is key to expanding the innovation and reach of our technology sectors. And an efficient pipeline of farm workers is essential to a vibrant agricultural economy.

By ending the existence of a sub-class in our communities through a fair and attainable path to citizenship, we can bring 11 million aspiring citizens out of the shadows and into the light. In so doing, we will inject more than a trillion dollars into our economy over the next decade and increase revenue for critical government services.

What we found in Washington, D.C. a month ago made us hopeful. Leadership in both the House and Senate said that now was the time to push CIR across the finish line. Congress was encouraged by disparate interest groups meeting across the table to find solutions rather than sniping at each other in the media. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO led the way in announcing common principles on issues that have killed reform in the past. Agri-business and farm workers followed suit with an agreement on the number of blue cards, wages and benefits. And to the credit of Congress, both houses have used bi-partisan efforts to address the issue, with a group of eight senators sharing their plan this week.

I believe that a majority of the American public will affirm comprehensive immigration that is the result of interested parties talking to each other instead of past each other. As we encourage this progress, it is important for all of us to not let perfect become the enemy of good.

Not only am I optimistic that comprehensive immigration reform will pass, I am hopeful that the model of governing used to achieve CIR, with stakeholders compromising to reach common goals by putting aside past agendas and partisan blinders, will become the accepted strategy for our leaders to find success on so many other critical issues facing the nation we love. I encourage you all to cheer Congress on.

And that’s The Business Perspective.

The Business Perspective is a weekly column by Gary Toebben, President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, produced with the input of Public Policy staff.

Obama’s Social Security, Medicare Cuts—No Grand Bargain for Latinos

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Social Security and Medicare cuts President Obama included in his proposed budget would disproportionately harm Latino Americans and are deeply unpopular in our community.

Rather than being part of a “Grand Bargain” offered to Republicans in exchange for possible tax increases, these cuts are a great betrayal of a group that proved essential to the president’s victory in the 2012 election.

President Obama won an unprecedented 71 percent of the Latino vote nationwide, allowing him to edge out Mitt Romney in the key swing states of Colorado, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

What many may not know is that like most Obama supporters, Latinos voted for the president in no small part, because they believed they could rely on him to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Latinos Depend More on Social Security

Latino voters believed President Obama in his 2011 State of the Union speech when he said we must “strengthen Social Security . . . without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”

Social Security matters to Latinos, because we depend on it more than any other group. Three in four (77 percent) Latino households ages 65 or older rely on Social Security for a majority of their income, and over half (55 percent) rely on it for 90 percent of their income.

That means Latino seniors are 18 percent more likely than the overall U.S. population to rely on Social Security for a majority of their income and 52 percent more likely to rely on it for 90 percent of their income.

A major benefit cut in the president’s proposal would be to switch the formula for calculating annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in Social Security and other programs. This so-called chained-Consumer Price Index (chained-CPI), would allow inflation to erode program benefits over time—and would hit Latinos especially hard.

Because we are more likely to have lower career earnings, our Social Security benefits tend to be more modest to begin with—$12,491 each year for the average Latino senior and only and $10,438 per year for the average Latina senior.

After 20 years receiving benefits under the chained-CPI—when they would be in their 80s—the average older Latino would lose an accumulated $7,774 in benefits, and the average Latina elder would lose $6,307. After 30 years, the cuts would grow, resulting in total benefit cuts of $17,049 for average Latino seniors and $13,832 for average Latina seniors.

Change Would Increase Poverty

Worse still, the chained-CPI punishes Latinos for being blessed with higher-than-average life expectancy, often combined with greater levels of chronic illness. Because the chained-CPI cuts benefits more as beneficiaries age, it would hit long-living Latinos harder than most.

It’s no coincidence then that some experts fear that the chained-CPI will increase poverty among Latino seniors. More than one in four Latino seniors already lives in poverty—nearly twice the rate among white seniors.

The White House claims it will protect “the most vulnerable” chained-CPI, with a special “birthday bump” increase for those seniors at age 76. But in the past, such carve-outs have proven inadequate.

An analysis by Social Security Works showed that protecting all vulnerable groups from the chained-CPI would erase half of the budget savings from the measure.

Even if significant numbers of Latinos were shielded from the chained-CPI due to their lower incomes, this birthday bump might have unintended consequences. Carve-outs—special treatment—of any kind are likely to be misconstrued as handouts for ethnic groups. We already have to deal with enough nasty stereotypes portraying us as recipients of “welfare” or “government handouts.”

Proposed Medicare ‘Pain’

The Medicare benefit cuts President Obama proposes are also a step in the wrong direction that would cause Latino seniors real pain.

Rather than dealing with the high costs of health care, the budget shifts health costs to beneficiaries by increasing deductibles, premiums and co-payments. The president’s plan would also create a new surcharge.

The White House claims these cuts will make Medicare beneficiaries better health care consumers, but this is a flawed argument. Doctors—not beneficiaries—make medical decisions, so the idea that seniors can shop around for health care is ludicrous. As a result, Latino seniors who cannot afford the higher out-of-pocket costs are liable to forego needed care—until their conditions become more acute and costly to treat.

So-called means testing of Medicare will not only affect the rich—over time, it would increase premiums for Latino seniors making up to $47,000 a year.

Seniors already spend three times more of their incomes on their direct health care costs as the rest of the population. Under the president’s budget, the reduction in Latino seniors’ income would be two-fold: They would be hit by the chained-CPI, and their out-of-pocket health care costs would increase on top of that.

In addition, the president’s budget provision requiring a $100 co-payment per episode for home health care services could severely impact those who depend on home health aides to treat their diabetes and other chronic diseases. This would disproportionately affect Latino seniors who have higher rates of diabetes than the overall population.

For example, in Chicago, where diabetes is the most prevalent in the country, 25.8 percent of Latinos over 65 suffered from diabetes compared with 15 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

The White House has defended the proposed Social Security and Medicare reductions as “not ideal” measures needed to achieve a compromise with Republicans in Congress.

Not the Problem—But a Solution

There is no question that the president faces difficult choices as he navigates unprecedented Republican obstruction. But at times, President Obama appears to have adopted the Republican framing as well: That our budget problems are due to over-generous Social Security and Medicare benefits.

In fact, Social Security does not and legally cannot contribute one penny to the annual deficit and cumulative national debt. Medicare’s rising costs are due to skyrocketing private health care costs. In fact, Medicare has proven far more effective at controlling medical inflation than its counterparts in the private insurance market.

Latinos voted for a president bold enough to start a new conversation about the challenges of aging, health care and economic security, not someone beholden to the same old Republican talking points.

A real “adult” conversation on our aging boomer population would begin by acknowledging that America has a retirement security and health care crisis. Social Security and Medicare are the solutions to those crises, not the problem.

The Latino community appreciates President Obama’s leadership on immigration rights and health care reform. Now it is time for him to honor his promise to Latinos and other vulnerable elders to protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.

Eva Dominguez is the executive director of Latinos for a Secure Retirement, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. This commentary was first posted on the New America Media website.

50 Inmates Earn Certificates, Diplomas Through Incarceration Education Program

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Forty-eight inmates at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Downtown Los Angeles on April 11 graduated with Life Skills and General Educational Development (GED) certificates, and two earned their high school diplomas. Sheriff Lee Baca presented the certificates to the male inmates who participated in the Sheriff’s Department’s 12-week Maximizing Education Reaching Individual Transformation (MERIT) life skills program that is offered at each of the seven jail facilities in Los Angeles Bounty by the Education Based Incarceration Bureau (EBI), according to a press release from the Sheriff’s Department.

The two inmates who received high school diplomas earned them through a program being taught by John Muir Charter School.

The ceremony’s Guest Speaker Luis Garcia told the inmates that he obtained a GED in 1995 while incarcerated at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, and is now a doctoral candidate from Loyola Marymount University.

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