An organizer with the Service Employees International Union Local 721 instructed union members to sign fake signatures and addresses on petitions for a pension reform measure led by former Mayor Richard Riordan, according to an email obtained and made public this week by Riordan.
Riordan is trying to get a plan on the May ballot that would move newly hired city workers off taxpayer-guaranteed pensions and onto 401(k)-style accounts.
"We need union members hitting the streets signing Riordan's petition with fake names/addresses and gathering retraction signatures from L.A. residents on our own petition. We need people-power starting this Saturday," SEIU Local 721 organizer Paul Kim wrote in an email to several dozen members of the union.
Kim, an organizer for engineers and engineering supervisors, did not return a call seeking comment. A union spokesman, however, decried the email.
"SEIU 721 in no way recommends that its members or anyone else falsify signatures on any petition. We are firmly against that kind of behavior," SEIU Local 721 spokesman Ian Thompson said. "The email in question was sent without the knowledge of the union's leadership. The person who sent the email has been disciplined for his action."
Thompson would not say what discipline Kim received, calling it a personnel matter.
It is illegal to intentionally sign a petition with a fake name or address, according to a spokeswoman for the city clerk's office.
Kim sent the email Thursday ahead of an effort by a coalition of city employee unions to block residents from signing Riordan's petition. The Coalition of L.A. City Unions sent about 120 signature-blockers across the city to urge potential backers not to support putting Riordan's plan on the May ballot and to inform people who have signed petitions how to legally rescind their signatures.
Riordan's pension proposal would apply to police, firefighters and Department of Water and Power employees, who have received more generous retirement benefits than other civilian city workers.
His plan would require workers to contribute more of their salaries toward their retirements and also freeze employees' salaries until the city's contribution to their pensions drops below a certain level--15 percent of an employee's salary for civilian workers and 25 percent for police officers and firefighters.
Riordan has said the rising cost of pensions will reduce the city to paying only for pensions and police officers within five years. The former mayor has given his campaign between $200,000 and $400,000 to pay for about 500 people to gather signatures to place the measure on the ballot.
But Thompson said Riordan's plan "would strip middle-class city workers of retirement security."
"It is an initiative funded by billionaires and millionaires to make them richer, while hurting L.A. and the people who keep it running," Thompson said.
Riordan called the encouraged faking of signatures "dirty tricks" and "a brilliant way to poison (the effort) if you're the devil."
John Schwada, a Riordan spokesman, said the campaign would likely refer the matter to the district attorney.
"Our attorneys believe this is a felony. We need to know how many of these emails went out," Schwada said. "This may have seriously contaminated our effort."