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My Sunday Column: Giving into IBEW Blackmail or Fighting It — With Rates Soaring, the Moment of Truth Is Near

In Glendale, utility workers found their paychecks a little smaller last week — the price of the inability of their union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, to negotiate an initial contract two years after winning the right to represent them.

Down the road, Pasadena Water and Power workers are all steamed up over the city’s resistance to give in to their demands on terms for a new contract that would move them closer to matching the sweetheart deal enjoyed by their union brothers and sisters at the L.A. Department of Water and Power thanks to IBEW business manager Brian D’Arcy, the perfect model of a ruthless old-fashioned union boss.

Seen by many big shots as the “smartest and toughest guy at City Hall,” D’Arcy is having an unusual run of bad luck.

He gambled millions of dollars of his member’s money on getting a patsy elected L.A. mayor — an over-the-top play that backfired, made the union the target of negative ads and media criticism, and was widely blamed for the defeat of Wendy Greuel, who had the backing of nearly all of the city’s business, labor and civic elite.

Now he faces contract talks with new L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, who owes him no favors and will be emboldened to hold the line on wages and benefits at a time when the economic recovery remains fragile and ratepayers are being socked with a steady stream of big rate hikes.

All of those factors may have come together to convince D’Arcy — better known for making threats and obscene gestures to reporters than giving interviews — to sit down for a lengthy chat with L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison, who produced a revealing Q & A last week in which the union boss, in typical fashion, blamed everyone else for what went wrong and deflected all responsibility for anything except to enrich the IBEW and its members.

Greuel’s consultant was “tone deaf” and ran a “crappy campaign.” His critics are the “right-wing apparatchiks” who see union workers as the “enemy.” Utility workers have it hard because they have to deal with “pretty cranky people all day long” — you know, like the people who pay the bills for inflated salaries and benefits and expect good service.

“My responsibility is to look after the welfare of my members,” D’Arcy declared.

Really? That’s all?

Is that any different than the bankers and speculators who brought down the economy, wiped out the savings and nest eggs of millions, foreclosed on their homes and then got bailed out by taxpayers?

Or the companies that poison the air, the water and the land in the name of profits?

Or all the politicians who have turned public service into self-service, selling their votes to the highest bidder?

Greed is accepted these days but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. It is a symptom of how we have lost our moral compass, forgotten that our fates are all bound together; and D’Arcy is a symbol of what has gone so wrong.

It’s too early to celebrate how the laws of karma have caught up with D’Arcy, but it has been a long time since anyone stood up to his bullying the way Glendale did in imposing its year-old last and final offer that included the 1.75% pay cut that took effect last week.

Or the way Pasadena did in rebuffing the IBEW tactic of packing the City Council chambers and denouncing officials for failing to invest more in infrastructure — as if they cared about anything other than higher wages and lucrative perks.

That’s a joke, of course, to anyone who has seen how D’Arcy operates, how he used threats of turning off the lights and busting politicians who got in his way to win contracts in L.A. with raises that gave his members a 40% to 50% premium over others in the city, and raised expectations of getting the same deals among utility workers throughout the region.

Apart from police and fire, utilities are the most important service provided by local governments that own their own water and power agencies. That includes cities like Glendale, Pasadena, Burbank and Los Angeles. All of them have to deal with the IBEW.

Each of these municipal utilities is seeking a long succession of annual rate hikes to provide the cash needed for long overdue capital investments in infrastructure, to cover the rising cost of increasingly scarce water supplies, and to meet escalating demands for green energy sources.

Glendale and Pasadena have scheduled hearings on rate hikes and L.A. is gearing for even sharper increases as pressure builds to end its reliance on cheap, dirty coal-fired plants.

A lot is at stake at a time when many, even in the public sector, are losing ground economically and America is increasingly a two-class society.

Blowing hot air as usual, D’Arcy told Morrison: “If you want to vilify me, I’m fair game, but vilifying my members is just wrong. They’re middle-class people, and somehow that’s a crime in this economy.”

The average wage of LADWP workers is $100,000 a year; for my money, that puts them in a pretty affluent class compared to the average person who is paying the bills.

You can sit on your hands and let D’Arcy blackmail your city officials, as he has done so often for so long, or you can stand up and visibly let them know it’s time to rein him in and look after the interests of ratepayers and taxpayers.

Or you’ll all be singing that old union song with an ironic twist in the lyric: “I’m working for the union, I’m working for the union till the day I die.”


This entry was posted in City Hall, DWP, Glendale-Burbank, Hot Topics, Los Angeles. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to My Sunday Column: Giving into IBEW Blackmail or Fighting It — With Rates Soaring, the Moment of Truth Is Near

  1. Teddy says:

    Ron, you have turned on the lights to the TRUTH.

    How could we have been so naïve for so many years?

    Thank you. You are HIS Gift to our city. Now we
    need to decide how to handle this – there must be a law against
    out and out deception and theft.

  2. Rita-of-Sunland says:

    Very interesting article, Ron—although NOT surprising. I tried to take some LADWP opinion survey put together by a PR firm they’d outsourced, but each time I attempted to take the opinion poll, I was met w/ the following: “Thank you. We already have your opinion.” When I reported this to the LADWP the bitches I spoke with were EXTREMELY rude. I was kept on hold, literally, for 50 minutes. Then they told me that they were unaware that this survey was even being taken– the last opinion survey they knew about happened back in early March.

  3. Ron, you must be one of those right wing bloggers that campaign funding IBEW Union Bo$$ d’Arcy referred to in his interview with Patt Morrison. Shame on you for leading the naive public astray! Ratepayers should be proud that they are being ripped off for over $1 billion a year by the City Council and their cronies that occupy the sewer known as City Hall.

  4. Noah says:

    Ron, the DWP has been paying excessive salaries for more than forty years that I know of. I was with a company that was included in the DWP’s annual compensation surveys way back when by which it determined the need for wage and salary adjustments for its employees. The results were usually compensation increases for DWP employees to the point where we and, I dare say, other companies like us could not compete salary-wise for jobs that were similar to theirs. The DWP reps would just smile when we broached the question as to how they justified recommendations for compensation increases when they were already paying premium wages and salaries. It would be very refreshing to see our Mayor and City Council represent the people of Los Angeles as they should and stand up to the DWP and its powerful union for once.

    • Anon says:

      Don’t hold your breath waiting for the clowncil to take action. Have they passed the $12 million dollar increase to PWC’s contract to replace the DWP’s ancient CIS program? The outrageous salaries are just the tip of the waste iceberg at DWP.

      • Anon says:

        FYI, the original contract was for $57.2 million and the new program was to have been implemented on April, 2013.

      • AnonDWP says:

        What the public will never know is how divisive the politics are WITHIN the DWP; its as if they are three separately run companies. Between Power and Water’s operational issues (mostly due to union rules) combined with turf wars between the Customer Service and IT Departments its not surprising that its taken almost 40 years and 3 attempts to upgrade the utility’s billing system.

        The agenda for the next board meeting outlines decisions on over $50 million dollars of expenditures; a drop in the bucket relative to the utilities $4.5 billion of revenues.

        The Board of Water and Power Commissioners work to make sure that ratepayers are seeing their money spent wisely. The link above outlines what ratepayers are getting for their money.

        However the games and backroom deals made by the utility’s managers sometimes force the Board to make decisions that further propagate the problem. (Watch the 6/4 Board Meeting video talking about Agenda Item #16 as an example.) Reform is needed at the utility and Ron Nichols is doing a great job balancing working with the Board and City Council. If he is able to remain in place after the Garcetti transition, there is a strong chance that serious reform could come to the utility.

  5. Anon says:

    Sorry to say, but my former fellow DWP colleagues are like welfare recipients at a block cheese giveaway; they will lineup for free stuff anywhere anytime. Too bad the other cities’ employees believed the horse manure shoveled their way by the IBEW, their municipally owned utilities don’t have their management under the thumb of a corrupt and compromised city council like our very own LACC. D’Arcy bashing accomplishes nothing, where are the plans to make our politicians accountable?

  6. DWP “Bitches?” HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Note in Pat “the Hat” Morrison’s interview that D’Arcy ADMITTED TAKING A BASEBALL BAT WITH HIM TO TELL THE LA WEEKLY REPORTER TO “GET THE HELL OUT” OF THE UNION’S HQ located near Western Ave and Beverly. D’arcy knows one thing now…Given any opportunity to VOTE AGAINST HIM AND HIS THUGS the vote will be 2-1 against him and his crap. The DWP union best find another union to do it’s bidding for them, like the TEAMSTERS.

  7. Anonymous says:

    All city employees including DWP, Police and Fire need a salary freeze for the next 10 years. If they are so brilliant they can find other jobs. Not one will leave. Most of them are incapable of finding similar jobs that pay even 75% of what they make. It is our politicians who have sold us. Don’t allow a single tax hike for any BS reason they can come up with. We pay enough.

  8. JEAN FLEMING says:


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