City considering DWP union salary deal (updated)

Hope Street Headquarters, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Hope Street Headquarters, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Molly Peterson/KPCC

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A public hearing on the contract between the city and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's union was held Friday as battle lines were being drawn.

The regular city council meeting was canceled to make room for a special joint meeting of the Energy and Environment and Budget and Finance committees to discuss the proposal, which the city's legislative analyst has urged the council to approve.

Negotiations on a proposed contract with Department of Water and Power employees now appear focused on long-accepted work rules for the utility’s workforce.

Until now, Mayor Eric Garcetti had voiced displeasure with the contract on the table but declined to specify his concerns. But in a new statement, Garcetti identifies work rules, like those that impact sick leave and outside contractors, as a sticking point.

“There are cost savings on the table that are worth pursing now. However, I will not sign this proposal because it limits further DWP reforms, specifically to the department’s costly and inefficient work rules,” Garcetti said in a statement.

The mayor’s comment comes one day after a report from the Controller’s Office found the DWP paid employees $77 million in overtime during the first six months of the year.

It also found that pay disparities continue to exist between City Hall and the DWP. For example, a tree surgeon for the Bureau of Street Services would have a base pay of $49,000. A DWP tree surgeon would start at $67,000. Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller told council members Friday that that has always been the case.

“I started with the city almost 30 years ago and at the time, my position paid 6 percent more at Water and Power than it did at the city,” he said.

Miller’s comment came as members of the Budget and Finance Committee and Energy and Environment Committee held a four-hour hearing on the contract for 8,200 DWP employees.

The existing contract does not expire until Sept. 30, 2014 — however, city officials want a deal done by Labor Day in order to delay pay raises that are scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1. The proposed contract would not provide any pay increases until October of 2016. DWP workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18 have only gone one year — fiscal year 1992-93 — without any sort of pay increase.

Delaying the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) could have a significant cost savings for the utility, according to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, because for every dollar the DWP pays in salary, it has to pay another 50 cents toward retirement benefits.

Postponing the COLAs would also impact employees’ health care plans. Right now, DWP workers do not pay anything toward their health care. The proposed deal would have current employees pay 1 percent and retired employees pay 2 percent toward benefits.  The DWP would pick up that tab for all workers until 2016. That year, current employees would themselves pay 2 percent toward care; retired employees would pay 4 percent.

The mayor and council president, Herb Wesson, are scheduled to meet tomorrow to continue negotiations.

During the hearing, the Mayor’s Office released a new slate of Water and Power commissioners. The nominees are:

·      Jill Banks Barad
·      Michael Fleming
·      William Funderburk
·      Mel Levine
·      Christina Noonan (incumbent commissioner)

“These accomplished Angelenos will help me shake up the status quo at the DWP so we can save money for ratepayers,” Garcetti said.

Before Friday's meeting, Gerry F. Miller, the chief legislative analyst, told the council in his report that the city was unlikely to get a better deal if it decided to go back to the bargaining table.

To illustrate just what's at stake, city controller Ron Galperin released new data just one day ahead of the hearing that shows the DWP boasts more workers who stand to make six figures in 2013 than any other city department, including police and fire.

More than 35% of DWP’s full-time employees earned more than $50,000 in base approved pay in the first six months of 2013. With extra earnings, however, more than 58% of DWP’s employees, in fact, earned more than $50,000 in the first six months of 2013 – putting them on track to make more than $100,000 a year. This compares to 33% of L.A. City Police and Fire Dept. employees, and 22% of L.A. City civilian employees.

Galperin said in a statement that the information was being made available to negotiators and to the public.

“Making DWP and City employees’ salary information readily available to the public on an ongoing basis is vital to full transparency in government,” said he wrote Thursday. “Angelenos deserve the most cost-effective services that the DWP can provide. Higher expenses mean higher rates and less money for much-needed infrastructure improvements.”

Chief Legislative Analyst's Report on DWP Union Salary Deal