THE BLOG
08/21/2013 04:55 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2013

Four Ways the DWP Union Controls L.A. and Why We Need to Support Mayor Eric Eric Garcetti

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Just when it appeared the Los Angeles City Council was about to rubber stamp the new DWP contract, Mayor Eric Garcetti has gone directly to the public for support.

And we need to support him on this if we are ever going to regain control of our city. So please read this message from the Mayor and sign the petition and get everyone you know who lives in the City of L.A. to sign it.

Now as for why I am taking such a particular interest in this issue, when the neighborhood council movement was still in its infancy, I attended the first city-wide meeting of NC representatives on a specific issue -- the DWP contract -- called by Jim Alger of a NC (neighborhood Council) in Northridge.

We quickly agreed this was an important issue for the NC's and formed a committee to negotiate a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the DWP to give us access to information we needed to make informed recommendations to the City about the policies of the DWP.

Eventually, I was on the panel that handled the last round of successful negotiations with just appointed DWP Manager, Ron Deaton, whom I had worked with on other projects and even before then, I had been appointed -- along with Jim Alger -- by Mayor Hahn on the recommendation of Doane Liu (now a Deputy Mayor for Garcetti) -- to serve as NC representatives on a committee overseeing the green policies of the DWP. And it was there that I first met Brian D'Arcy (the head of the DWP's main union,the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18) and realized that he was actually the person who ran the DWP -- and, to a certain extent, the City of Los Angeles.

During our first meeting, the DWP executive who ran the program brought up a specific project and was beginning to discuss it when D'Arcy -- without even bothering to look at him -- dismissed the project by saying -- "That's Not Gonna Happen." And once he said that -- that idea was dead. It took only one more meeting to make it clear that any idea which benefited the City -- or the rate payers -- or anything other than the union -- was an immediate non-starter. So any proposal needed to include what were essentially pay-offs to the union.

During the following years DWP MOU Committee learned why millions were thrown away on pet union projects such as the electric bikes that never got made in Hawaii, discovered the existence of a secret union education fund which the pubic was not allowed to know about even though the public was paying for it, learned the reasons why it can cost up to twice as much and can take up to twice as long for the DWP to build a water main line than a private contractor and uncovered and helped expose the nightmare that Measure B was -- which allowed a handful of us to work with Jack Humphreville and Ken Draper to defeat (with the aid the LAT editorial page), a program that would have totally unnecessarily cost rate payers hundreds of millions, yes, hundreds of millions, of dollars.

But we never could find out exactly how one union could essentially control this city. So one day I rhetorically asked Ron Deaton, since I knew there couldn't be any real answer, how could one union could gain so much political power and have wages 20 percent higher than those of other comparable city and private workers?

But, to my surprise, he gave me the some very specific reasons. First, all the other major city unions had to get their pay increases from a city budget that -- during recessions -- was already in the red. There was simply was no money for raises when tax revenues were down and everyone was suffering from the recession

However, the DWP, on the other hand -- had relatively steady revenue from water and power rates. And even then, if there was not enough to cover the requested pay rises -- the DWP board simply raised the rates to pay for the raises. Second, even though the City Council still had to approve those raises, the DWP union was often either the largest or one of the larger donors to many of the council members who voted on those raises. So, by getting raises during each recession while all other government -- and private employees -- did not get raises (or were getting pay cuts) -- the DWP pay scale kept going up and up until it is now far higher than the pay for most other employees working comparable jobs, public or private..

Third, Ron enlightened me that without the City ever noticing it, the union had manged to slowly unionize much of the administrative staff of the DWP -- including many managerial level employees. And many of those managers either initiated or implemented the work rules that skyrocketed costs even higher and benefit packages that kept getting further and further out of line.

Fourthly, and even more importantly, without the City realizing the implications -- the increasing numbers of the executives and managers who normally would temporarily run any other city's public or private utility during a short term strike, had been unionized and now took their marching orders not from City Hall but from Brain D'Arcy.

And that is one issue I have not heard anyone yet address. But Brian D'Arcy knows he has the power to shut down the entire city any time he wants to and he knows he holds all the cards right now. So there is only way to stop him. An informed and united and informed citizenry has to rise up and tell Mayor Garcetti -- and their City Council representatives -- they are willing to fight to take back control of our city. So go to this page and tell Mayor Garcetti you support him.