News Column

Labor leader Maria Elena Durazo criticizes Los Angeles' pension investments in Wal-Mart

May 1, 2014

By Dakota Smith, Daily News, Los Angeles



May 01--Labor leader Maria Elena Durazo criticized the city's pension fund investments in Wal-Mart on Thursday, saying pension boards should shift their policies and not invest in companies that pay low wages.

Both the Los Angeles City Employees' Retirement System and Fire and Police Pension System reported investments of at least $50 million in Wal-Mart earlier this year. The pension funds, currently worth billions of dollars, help pay for benefits for the city's workforce.

Asked about the Wal-Mart holdings at a May Day parade in downtown Los Angeles, Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, urged a change in policy. "I do not think that the city should invest in any way not just in Wal-Mart (but) in any employer, any industry that is low wage," she said.

City and labor leaders routinely criticize Wal-Mart and other low-wage chains but rarely speak out on pension investments.

In 2012, Durazo and City Council members were unsuccessful in their attempts to block the opening of a new Wal-Mart store in Chinatown. That same year, she and labor representatives criticized then-mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti for taking a contribution from a Wal-Mart executive.

On Thursday, as part of the May Day rally, Durazo and union members organized a march at the Chinatown Wal-Mart and Burger King, companies targeted for low-paying wages, she said. Union members alleged in a press release that Wal-Mart, whose employees aren't unionized, illegally fires workers.

Durazo acknowledged the pension issue is complicated because workers contribute to the funds, but called for a new approach to investing.

"It's working people's money in the end -- that's what is being invested," Durazo said. "We will continue to try every legal avenue to make sure, whether it's the city or the state government, that they have investments that don't hurt workers."

The city's pensions funds have investments in companies that some groups -- but rarely the boards, a mix of mayoral appointees and labor representatives -- find controversial.

Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, criticized the pension funds' holding in ExxonMobil in February, urging the boards to rethink the holding.

Thursday's May Day march through downtown focused on immigration rights and raising workers' wages.

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Source: Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)