Labor protesters gathered at the entrance to the Crowne Plaza hotel where Mayor Aspel held his State of the City address.
Labor was the focus of Friday morning’s “State of the City” address by Redondo Beach Mayor Steve Aspel, and the tensions of city workers were felt well before entering the Crowne Plaza ballroom.
Over 25 labor protesters gathered outside the hotel at 6:30 a.m. to greet the mayor, councilmembers, city officials and other attendees as they arrived for the address. The protesters held signs that read “Redondo Employees Deserve Honesty, Fairness and Respect” and “98% No Confidence,” referring to the overwhelming vote of no confidence City Manager Bill Workman received from city employees in November.
Brad Sweatt, President of the Firefighters’ Association and spokesperson for the protest, was among the first to arrive on the picket line.
“We are here to remind the mayor and the city that we haven’t gone anywhere,” Sweatt said. “We have been quiet lately. They asked us to lay low while they worked on things, and we want them to remember that we are still waiting for results. We are here to continue our message.”
“I have talked to the Mayor,” Sweatt said. “There is an open line of communication. This isn’t a boxing match. But this is our message and we have been saying it for 18 months. We need honesty, fairness and respect in both management style and in negotiations. It’s [about] the way we’ve been treated on a day to day basis and at the negotiations table.”
Six different labor groups picketed outside the Crowne Plaza, including the firefighters, police officers, members of the Professional and Supervisory Association, the City Employees Association and the Teamsters.
“We need to change the environment that we’ve been working in for quite a long time,” Sweatt said. “It’s our city manager.”
When Aspel took to the podium at 8 a.m., he immediately broke the ice regarding the protest outside.
“I appreciate you all crossing the picket lines to be here,” he said, and was met by laughter. “But, honestly, I am not mad that they’re out there. They are being respectful.”
Aspel did not address labor issues until the end of his 40-minute speech, but he did begin his address with a subtle but palpable slight to the city manager. The Mayor introduced and recognized all members of the City Council in attendance, as well as City Clerk Eleanor Manzano and City Attorney Mike Webb. Bill Workman was not acknowledged, although later in the speech he noted that much of the city’s progress in developing its long dormant waterfront has occurred since 2005 — the year Workman arrived as city manager.
After a lengthy and characteristically light-hearted discussion of the city’s harbor revitalization project, the proposed repowering of the AES power plant, new arts programs, new hotels, the Blue Zones health initiative, and the city’s budget, Aspel turned to the subject of labor.
“As the mayor, I would love to be running the city with the highest paid employees in the state of California and the happiest employees, but I know that is not the case,” he said. “But we are working on it. We have had long sessions and we’re now in the fact-finding process.”
Aspel emphasized how much he values the work of city employees but maintained that his duty is to Redondo’s taxpayers first.
“They work their butts off for us,” he said. “But we work for the citizens and taxpayers first, not the employees. We are the stewards of the money for the citizens. The city employees deserve special recognition. Don’t act like they are jerks, thank them. We have the right of free speech in this country. They work 24/7 so don’t give them the finger.”
Aspel sustained a spirit of optimism in his closing.
“They’re just not very happy right now but we are going to get there.” said the Mayor. “We are going to work to overcome these labor issues and it should not be a topic of next year’s State of the City. Speaking for the whole council, we are going to make this thing work if it’s the last thing we do. Even though they’re out there, I still love them.”
“I am so fortunate,” Aspel said, referring to his successful recent battle with cancer. “I have my health back, for all intents and purposes. I have my wife and kids, you guys, and I am the mayor of one of the greatest places on earth. Everyone knows who we are. Now we need a theme, and the theme is ‘Take it Easy.’”
The event closed with a reimagining of the Eagles’ song “Take It Easy” with Redondo-themed lyrics, performed by Steve Goldstein. A video and photo slide show of the city ran in the background.