YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

DWP Deal Solidifies Resolve of Other Unions : Negotiations: Labor leaders say they are tired of being rebuffed by the city. Police officers, who are demanding at least the same raises the utility workers got, could be the next group to take action.


This week's late summer contract settlement with Department of Water and Power employees resolved Los Angeles' most pressing labor dispute, but it may have sown the seeds for an autumn of discontent among about 20 other city unions.

DWP workers had scarcely returned to the job Friday--ending a nine-day strike that won them a 9% pay raise over four years--when the head of the city's police union said officers are prepared to take action of their own to win concessions from the city.

Although police officers are prohibited from striking, they have previously discussed a temporary halt to writing traffic tickets, a sickout known as a "blue flu," or a demonstration to register their discontent with the city.

"We're not going to accept anything less than DWP," said David Zeigler, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file police officers. "The League plans to take affirmative action next week."

Zeigler declined to be more specific, but other officers said plans are being made for a demonstration next week.

"The city has been stalling and stalling and stalling in its talks with us," Zeigler said. "The time for stalling is over."

Such sentiments are rife among the nearly 30,000 city employees who remain without contracts.

In the midst of the city's deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, most employees have not received raises for two years. Many union leaders are saying it's time for concessions from the city.

Some city officials said they feared those feelings would be exacerbated by the city's proposed raises for about 10,000 employees who are represented by the two DWP unions on strike. The agreement must be ratified in a ballot mailed to rank-and-file union members Friday before it can be forwarded to the City Council for final approval.

But even before its ratification, elected officials and management have begun their efforts to set apart the DWP contract and to lower expectations among other employees.

The city leaders say money was available for a DWP raise because the public utility's revenue comes from rate payers, a source that remains flush. The taxes that support other city services have dipped badly during the recession, forcing cutbacks in services rather than increased expenditures, the officials said.

"The Department of Water and Power is a separate profit-making entity," said Mayor Richard Riordan, who personally oversaw the climactic DWP bargaining sessions. "I think we are going to have to make other (employees) realize that we are facing a $200-million deficit next year and it's going to be very difficult to meet everyone's demands."

Four City Council members who voted against the settlement argued that it would open the door for unreasonable demands by other unions.

"Why should we give money to a DWP worker striking in violation of a court order," said Councilman Joel Wachs, "when we're not going to give a raise to a police officer enforcing the law."

But union leaders--who have traditionally used the powerful DWP unions as a bellwether for their own negotiations--said they will not be dissuaded by the city's claims of poverty.

"My concern is not how the city will get the money," said Don Forrest, secretary of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112. "My concern is these people who put their lives on the line and who deserve a salary increase. It is the politicians' task to come up with the money."

Forrest said unions have been "jerked around" by the city long enough.

Bob Duncan, head of the Engineers & Architects Assn., argued that management can provide raises for other employees with creative compensation agreements, although he was not more specific.

David Trowbridge, head of Local 347 of the Service Employees International Union, said the DWP settlement may indicate that management is ready to settle with other employees. "I think all union members benefited from the DWP settlement," said Trowbridge, whose union represents 6,600 blue-collar city workers.

But Administrative Officer Keith Comrie said the city is facing the prospect of a $200-million shortfall next year because of reductions in state support and the recession.

"At this point there just isn't anything there and there won't be until the (economic) recovery," Comrie said. "That recover is overdue. It's long, long overdue."

Comrie said management's only room to bargain is on "non-financial incentives," such as days off.

Meanwhile, DWP officials said they expect to be living with the aftermath of their strike, the longest in the utility's history, for some time.

Bad feelings were simmering Friday among returned strikers and those who did not walk off the job, said Mike Moore, the DWP's executive director of public and government affairs. But Moore said the incidents were limited to "exchanges of language and attitude."

A memo was sent to all DWP facilities to advise managers on how to deal with bad feelings, and counselors were available to help workers resolve disputes and to cope with stress, Moore said.

With the return to normal work shifts at midnight Thursday, DWP workers began to handle a backlog of repair calls and hundreds of new service requests. Moore said the utility hoped to catch up on all the new service orders by late Friday.

Although the city escaped from the DWP strike with only minor delays in restoring water and power outages, City Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr. said problems could have been severe in a natural disaster.

Svorinich called on Comrie's office to draft a plan for handling earthquakes and other emergencies if the event of strikes by city employees.

Times staff writer Jim Newton contributed to this article.

Los Angeles Times Articles