L.A. City Worker Pay Trumps Private Sector, Other Government Agencies

As labor negotiations in the City of Los Angeles continue to flare, a recent investigation by the Los Angeles Times shows that city employees in the largest categories represented by L.A.’s leading workers union earn more than twice the median salary of their private-sector counterparts and 18 to 24% more than public employees elsewhere in the county.

For instance, security guards employed by the City of Los Angeles earned a median salary of $57,501 last year, compared to $23,330 in the private sector. The median base salary for a city gardener was $55,173, while those in the private sector earned around $23,250. Janitors employed by the city saw median annual wages of $46,694, compared to $22,750 in the private sector in 2014. For garbage truck drivers, the pay disparity was around $30,507.

The same investigation found a similar but smaller discrepancy when comparing the salaries to other public agencies. L.A. traffic officers earned a median salary of $63,626 in 2014, for example; other government agencies paid around $45,000 for the same job.

Alice Goff, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 390, said the city’s generous salaries benefit the local economy because they force private sector employers to raise wages in an effort to compete.

"It's what folks should be striving to, in my opinion," Goff said. "I don't see why we should go down to meet the others."

Beacon Economics founding partner Christopher Thornberg, however, says valuable resources are being siphoned off to pay exorbitant salaries.

“All the money that's going to those unions is money that's not getting invested in our schools. It's not getting invested in our roads. It's not getting invested in our infrastructure. It's not getting invested in social programs," Thornberg said.

Ed Ring, executive director of the California Policy Center, called the situation unsustainable.

The Times analysis looked at city payroll data for more than 3,300 SEIU workers, along with data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It did not factor in health or retirement benefits.

Los Angeles city officials and labor groups have been in negotiations for nearly a year, and city worker strikes remain a looming threat.

Read more about the negotiations and the recent Times analysis here.