Updated: LA City Council pushes to end City Hall, DWP union battle

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Concerned that a "petty political fight" could jeopardize a contract that saved the Department of Water and Power more than $450 million in labor costs, more than half the Los Angeles City Council signed onto a motion Tuesday to broker a compromise between City Hall and the utility's union. 

It's been eight months since Mayor Eric Garcetti, Controller Ron Galperin and City Attorney Mike Feuer subpoenaed the DWP's union, IBEW Local 18, to turn over financial records related to the Joint Training and Joint Safety institutes. For months, city leaders have demanded details about how the institutes spent ratepayer money. The two nonprofits are funded by the DWP to the tune of $4 million a year as part of a labor agreement. They are jointly operated by trustees appointed by the utility and union. 

While the issue works its way through multiple legal challenges, the controller said he could not in good conscience make the $4 million payment owed to the trusts this year.

However, that decision ultimately rests with the city council, which says it will release the funds if 13 conditions are met. Those conditions include fiscal and performance audits, unfettered access to all trust documents and an end to all trust-related litigation. The payment would be held in an escrow account and could not be spent for 120 days, theoretically giving the controller enough time to complete an audit. 

"There's no more time to waste on petty political fights," said Councilman Paul Krekorian.  "We can't be sidetracked by petty political or labor issues when we have the serious business of fixing this water and electrical system."

The payment is owed as part of a multi-year labor contract agreed to in 2013. Withholding the annual payment could jeopardize the rest of the agreement, which created a new pension tier and withheld cost-of-living adjustments, saving the city $456 million over the life of the contract and as much as $5.2 billion over 30 years. 

"If we don't do this, there would be a move, we would suspect, to try to blow up the arrangement that we made," said Council President Herb Wesson. 

Up until now, members of the Los Angeles City Council have remained largely mum on the ongoing fight between other City Hall officials and the DWP's union, though Wesson told KPCC back in May that "if it were me, I think I'd go about it a different way" than the mayor's strategy. 

In a briefing with reporters, Councilman Bob Blumenfield said the council is "throwing a gauntlet down."

"It's about taking leadership," Blumenfield said. "We're going to take the bull by the horns. Take some leadership and help move the city and the city family forward because there's just too much at stake."

Council members said they had not spoken with union leader Brian D'Arcy about the motion. In a statement, D'Arcy said he is reviewing the proposal.

"The funding for the trusts comes from a 10- and 15-cent per hour contribution made to the trusts in lieu of IBEW members wages to improve safety and training on the job," D'Arcy said. "This funding for the trusts was recently upheld by both the city council and the mayor through the recent contract approved last year, which resulted in billions of dollars in savings for the city and ratepayers."

Asked whether he had talked to Garcetti, Wesson said "the mayor's been informed as to what we're going to do."

At an afternoon news conference, Garcetti said, "I'm glad to see the city council step forward with the same principles that myself, the city controller, city attorney and I think the public have demanded."

This post has been updated

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