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BIG RAISES FOR DWP CITY COUNCIL APPROVES UNION'S PLUM CONTRACT AMID STRIKE THREATS.

Byline: Beth Barrett Staff Writer

Faced with more than 200 DWP workers wearing T-shirts threatening a strike, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a controversial five-year contract that gives some of the city's already highest-paid workers raises of up to 28 percent.

The contract - approved 10-3 by the council - had been hotly debated for nearly two months, coming amid water-rate hikes, questions about union-wage parity, concerns about the city's labor negotiating process and threats of a strike by Department of Water and Power workers.

The deal, which takes effect Oct. 1, guarantees salary hikes of at least 16.8 percent to 8,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18.

It also includes a unique provision that ties annual raises to the national consumer price index, which rose last month, meaning workers will get 3.8 percent raises next year - already more than the 3.25 percent guaranteed in the pact.

The five-year deal is expected to cost at least $70 million, and as much as $130 million if inflation climbs to 6 percent in the future.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa criticized the negotiating process and called for reforms to the ``outdated'' method of labor-management relations ``that brought us to the brink of a strike that would have paralyzed our city.''

Villaraigosa, who was backed by the IBEW during his mayoral campaign, said in a statement that he supports the contract.

``Once the contract was presented to membership, anything short of approval would have been unjust,'' he said.

But Villaraigosa and City Controller Laura Chick said they will launch a comprehensive review and reform of negotiating policies and practices, with recommendations expected by next April.

``Too often, the city of Los Angeles has been stuck in a time warp, making decisions in the same way over and over again, without stepping back and asking is this the best way to do this,'' Chick said in a statement.

While supporters said the contract was a good-faith action with a union that had already ratified the contract, critics said it widens the salary gap between utility staff and other city workers doing essentially the same jobs.

``It's pure politics,'' said Jim Alger, president of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, who last year was part of a grass-roots effort that forced the council to block a 7 percent water rate hike on top of the 11 percent rate increase.

``The problem is you're dealing with people who aren't looking beyond the next five minutes. I blame the council. They set the terms.''

San Fernando Valley council members Dennis Zine and Greig Smith joined Finance Committee chairman Bernard Parks in opposing the deal.

IBEW business manager Brian D'Arcy applauded the council, saying the union had scheduled a strike vote for next Monday if the council had rejected the contract.

``I'm just pleased it's over,'' D'Arcy said. `'We wanted stability, and we wanted to have a cost-of-living increase. We've had it since the mid- `90s and it's actually a lower floor.''

DWP General Manager Ron Deaton said the rising consumer price index will add about $2 million to the cost of the contract, bringing the total to about $16 million in salary increases next year.

The utility has proposed a 3.8 percent water rate hike next year as part of a 17.9 percent increase over the next five years.

Deaton said about a half-percent of that increase would go to the salary hike at the contract minimum, while the maximum would require about an additional 1 percent increase.

D'Arcy dismissed some council members' concerns about disparities with wages for other unions.

During the last fiscal year, DWP workers got a 5 percent increase under their previous contract, while about 10,000 other city workers were covered by a union that had agreed to forgo raises because of the city's fiscal crisis.

``They make choices. If I brought my members zero, I would be hanging from that rafter over there,'' D'Arcy said.

Since fiscal 1999, DWP workers have gotten 30 percent in salary hikes and civilian workers 25 percent - while the regional consumer price index has risen about 19 percent, according to city records.

Julie Butcher, general manager of Service Employees International Union, Local 347 - which had demanded a review of citywide pay policies in the wake of the IBEW contract - said the deal has changed the bargaining dynamic in the city.

Butcher said the SEIU and other unions will be ``hard pressed to believe the city'' in the future when it claims to have no money for raises.

Valley Councilman Tony Cardenas, who chairs the Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the contract was debated earlier, called the contract ``viable and fair.'' He was joined by Valley council members Wendy Greuel and President Alex Padilla.

Greuel said her approval of the contract - which was negotiated with instructions approved by the council, then ratified by the IBEW's membership - hinged on concerns about an unfair labor practices complaint and the fact the utility had no formal strike plan if 95 percent of the work force walked out on Oct. 1.

In opposing the contract, Smith cited wage disparities with other unions. He noted that a DWP automotive dispatcher could earn $80,221 - 61 percent higher than the $49,903 a nonutility worker in the same position would get.

D'Arcy, however, called it an aberration, and said there was only one person at DWP currently in that class.

In an unrelated development, Villaraigosa accepted DWP commission nominee William A. Burke's decision not to pursue the post amid questions raised by City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo over other boards Burke sits on.

Beth Barrett, (818) 713-3731

beth.barrett(at)dailynews.com

HOW THEY VOTED

The Los Angeles City Council voted 10-3 Tuesday to approve a five-year contract for DWP workers that guarantees raises of 16 percent.

--YES: Tony Cardenas, Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Janice Hahn, Tom LaBonge, Alex Padilla, Jan Perry, Ed Reyes, Bill Rosendahl, Jack Weiss.

--NO: Bernard Parks, Greig Smith, Dennis Zine

CAPTION(S):

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HOW THEY VOTED (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Sep 21, 2005
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