Dozens of trash haulers and other vehicles encircled Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, blowing their horns and clogging downtown traffic as they protested what city labor groups claim are millions of dollars’ worth of “predatory fees” L.A. has paid to Wall Street banks.

That money, they argue, would be better spent on city services, which were cut back during the recession.

Scores of workers and labor organizers rattled purple cowbells as they waited for the marchers — estimated by organizers to number in the hundreds — to join them outside City Hall.

“Our community has been devastated by austerity,” said Marvel Hunter, a city tire repairman who is on the bargaining team trying to come to an agreement with the city. The money paid in the bond deals “can be used to repair our streets and clean up our neighborhoods.”

Eight years ago, the city entered into an interest-rate swap deal with the Bank of New York Mellon and Dexia, a Franco-Belgian institution, for its Wastewater System Revenue Bond issued in 1988. The rate swap was done to take advantage of what were at the time historically low interest rates.

But rates dropped even lower when the economy crashed. This left the city paying more than the market rate, while the banks paid variable rates that were kept low by the Federal Reserve. The 2006 deal had locked in the city’s interest rate for 22 years.

City Hall protest
A city worker protests outside City Hall on Tuesday morning. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A Los Angeles City Council committee moved Monday to get out of the contracts, saying the deals soured after the economic crash. A labor coalition argues that the deals have cost the city millions at a time when it was slashing jobs and cutting city services.

The noisy protest was just one of a number of rallies and events planned Tuesday to protest the fees. It comes as labor contracts for tens of thousands of city workers expire. Unions and the city are still locked in negotiations over new contracts.