Hundreds of angry Department of Water and Power employees threatened with layoffs starting next week marched on City Hall Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to force city officials to sweeten a buyout and severance package being offered to workers who leave the utility voluntarily.
Leaders of the Engineers and Architects Assn., having achieved little at the bargaining table during the past four months, once again took their case directly to the City Council.
Before marching five blocks to the council chambers, some of the union members wearing yellow T-shirts with bull's-eye targets shredded their layoff notices in front of DWP headquarters.
The latest protest was intended to pressure the council to encourage greater generosity on the part of DWP general manager S. David Freeman. But the effort failed to produce any movement at a long negotiating session later in the day. The first group of workers is scheduled to be laid off Monday.
So far, the Engineers and Architects Assn. is the only DWP union that has rejected the $346-million package of cash severance payments and enhanced retirement benefits approved by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the union representing DWP managers.
The package includes cash payments of up to $50,000 for younger employees who leave voluntarily and up to five years additional pension credit as an incentive for workers near retirement age to quit the utility. Senior employees already eligible to retire would receive three years credit added to their pensions.
The downsizing is intended to help DWP slash its operating cost and help pay off $4 billion in debt on its power plants to prepare for competition in the deregulated electric industry.
But Bob Duncan, executive director of the association, told council members that the package doesn't provide enough severance pay for younger workers. He urged the council to provide up to a year's salary in cash. "You must give us the initial cash incentive," he said.
Duncan warned that the council is going to destroy "the entire brain trust of the department" by eliminating engineers who keep the nation's largest municipal utility running. "You can't afford to do that."
He pleaded with the council to establish a redeployment and retraining system for employees who don't take the cash buyout or retirement incentives.
Though there have been numerous bargaining sessions since October, Duncan complained that Freeman has been unwilling to negotiate with his union. "We're tired of going to the table and negotiating with ourselves," he said.
That brought a sharp retort from Freeman, who said in an interview that "all that stands between the employees getting an agreement is the union itself."
"Nobody can say this is a chintzy offer," Freeman said. "Chintzy is not a word that would fit. Inadequate is not a word that would fit."
And he made clear that the time for reaching an agreement was running out. "It's four months. It's enough already," Freeman said. "I don't know what in the name of heaven" the city can do beyond offering up to $50,000 for younger employees to leave.
Freeman said if no agreement is reached by Monday, "the layoffs will go ahead as scheduled."
The only wild card is whether Superior Court Judge Kurt J. Lewin will grant the union's long-standing request for an injunction blocking the layoffs.
At a court hearing late last month, Lewin told a union attorney that "the thought occurred to me that maybe you'd like me to enjoin deregulation" of the electric industry. "I don't have the authority to do that," the judge said.
Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this story.