The two candidates for mayor of Los Angeles are much alike. Both Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are lifelong Angelenos. Both are liberal Democrats. Both have more than 10 years’ experience at City Hall.

But there’s one issue that separates them. And it’s a crucial one for the business community. That’s the backing of labor unions.

Greuel has such enormous financial support from unions that it is unsettling. For example, an insightful analysis in the Los Angeles Times a week ago showed that of all so-called super-PAC donations made to both candidates, close to 60 percent was from organized labor and was given to support Greuel.

The whopping mismatch does more than make a bad impression: It creates the expectation that Greuel would not – could not – act as an effective brake on the runaway power of unions in Los Angeles.

It’s a pity. Greuel is knowledgeable and articulate, and our sense is that she’d be a good and effective spokeswoman for the city. But by so openly seeking help and money from unions, she’s made it difficult for us to support her.

To be clear, the Business Journal is not anti-union. Labor unions serve an important and necessary role. In past decades, they got decent working conditions and wages for aggrieved workers, and today unions serve as an effective deterrent to any rapacious impulses of employers. At their best, unions act as a counterweight to maintain a wary balance between employers and employees. America needs sturdy unions.

Our concern is that the pendulum of power has swung alarmingly in labor’s favor in Los Angeles and throughout most of California. Public-sector unions with their featherbedded jobs, relatively high wages, early retirements and lavish pensions have bankrupted a few cities in the state and are a big contributor to the financial distress of Los Angeles. Instead of making difficult but necessary fiduciary choices, the city’s political “leaders” seem perfectly happy to shovel more of the taxpayers’ dollars to unions to pay them off and to keep their contributions flowing back to City Hall.

It would be plenty tragic if this were occurring only in cities, school districts and other parts of the public sector. But the Los Angeles City Council and current mayor have made themselves relentless agents for organized labor in the private sector. In recent years, we’ve seen the mayor broker a deal that essentially forced building owners to allow security guards to unionize and actively push a Teamsters-inspired plan to transform the city’s clean-trucks initiative at the Port of Los Angeles into a union-boosting plan. The City Council approved a scheme to upend the private sector’s trash-hauling system in such a way to favor unions, and project labor agreements have become de rigueur on any construction project that touches a city asset. We could go on.

The city’s corrupt coupling with unions has killed off many businesses here, encouraged some to expand elsewhere and dispirited others. That’s one reason for the fact that’s so often and cynically cited by business operators here: While Los Angeles was gaining in population over the last 20 years, it was steadily losing payroll jobs. That’s an embarrassing reality, and largely the fault of City Hall.

This is the Business Journal’s first endorsement. We are doing it now because it is crucial that the city get on the right path. And while we harbor few illusions that Los Angeles can truly become business friendly, we believe it can at least stop abusing businesses and regarding them as cows to be milked. We call on the next mayor to stop, and perhaps even reverse, the city’s union activism that has so marked recent years.

Greuel does not appear able to do so. She is in the position of having to pay back the extensive financial and political support she has accepted from unions.

The important and troubling question is whether Garcetti is up to the task. He is from the same pro-union mold, after all. On the other hand, he has taken some steps to try to resolve the city’s pension problems. And since the unions have thrown their support to his opponent, he is in far better position to confront them.

What’s more, Garcetti is an intelligent and reasonable administrator who, by several accounts, grew into his job as council president.

We endorse Eric Garcetti, and we hope he would grow into the job as mayor and understand he needs to fairly represent everyone.

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