LOS ANGELES — Members of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s most powerful union will see a significant bump in pay, with the City Council’s approval June 28 of a new contract for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18.
The deal was approved on an 11-3 vote despite three council members’ objections to the speed with which it came to the council for a vote, having skipped a committee hearing after the Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved the contract last week.
Councilmen Mitch O’Farrell, David Ryu and Mike Bonin, who cast the dissenting votes, said they felt the process lacked transparency.
“The approval of this plan without greater discussion, public outreach or deeper analysis undermines the public’s trust in their local government,” Ryu said.
Bonin said he learned the details of the deal and that it was coming to a vote though the media.
“I’m disturbed, as are a few others, by this process, and there is still information I feel I don’t have,” Bonin said.
Councilman Joe Buscaino, who ultimately voted for the deal, also said he learned of the contract details through the media.
“This process stunk. One cannot assume approval of a contract without proper vetting. We heard about this contract through a number of media reports. In the five years I’ve been here through city contracts, my office and myself were at least briefed on what to expect,” Buscaino said.
The deal, which has the support of Mayor Eric Garcetti, gives the union five straight years of raises while continuing the practice of union workers not contributing toward their health care costs — a benefit not enjoyed by all city workers.
The new contract has been criticized by some as being too generous— to the point that it could cause other city unions to ask for raises — as well as for being fast-tracked to a vote.
The contract gives six raises over five years for the union’s 9,000 members at a total rate of about 13 percent to 22 percent, depending on the consumer price index. It also ends the union’s $4 million controversial annual contribution to two nonprofits, the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute, which have been heavily criticized due to a lack of transparency as to how they were spending and tracking the money.
The contract will cost an estimated $56 million annually, but will not impact the city’s general fund as it will be funded via adjustments to the DWP’s budget, according to a DWP commission memo.
Fred Pickle, executive director of the DWP’s Office of Public Accountability, said because the department routinely comes in under budget each year, the raises would not likely result in higher rates for customers.
When Garcetti ran for mayor in 2013, one of his chief issues was a promise to bring sweeping changes to the DWP. That pledge made him an enemy of the union, which spent $2 million supporting his opponent, then-City Controller Wendy Greuel. Once elected, Garcetti blocked the approval of a four-year contract with the union so he could renegotiate a new deal that resulted in no raises for the union.
“Public unions are major donors to City Hall political campaigns, so perhaps it should be no surprise if elected officials are reluctant to drive a hard bargain. But this contract could sure use more analysis and public debate,” the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board wrote while also criticizing Garcetti for not driving a harder bargain this time around after his landslide re-election in March.
Interim Chief Administrative Officer Rich Llewellyn said the deal was not a template for future deals with other unions and contended the raises are needed to keep DWP workers from leaving to work for other cities.
An audit of the DWP released earlier this year by City Controller Ron Galperin found that the utility spends about $40 million a year on apprenticeship programs that only graduate about 51 percent or fewer of their enrollees, and that many of the graduates go to other utilities to get better salaries.
“This contract moves us in the direction of much-needed reforms, specifically ending ratepayer funding of the two nonprofit training institutes that I audited in 2015, and offering a retention incentive for certain workers who are expensive to train and frequently lured away by private utilities,” Galperin said. “At the same time, I’m not convinced that all of the across-the-board increases were justified by the need to attract and retain employees at the DWP. We must be watchful stewards of ratepayer money.”
Llewellyn said the elimination of the payment to the two institutes was a big win for the city.
When pressed by come council members as to why the city didn’t push harder on health care contributions, Llewellyn said, “We pushed on everything. So I don’t want anyone to understand that we didn’t push on every term. We pushed on everyone, and they pushed back on everyone. And we ended up in the middle with what I believe is a reasonable deal.”