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DWP drips cash

July 10, 2006

YOU HAD BETTER SHOW SOME gratitude. Your Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners went to bat for you when the municipally owned utility wanted to start charging more for water and electricity. Sure, the five-member panel signed off on a budget that requires raising your rates. Every drop of water is soon to cost 2.75% more, and then another 2.75% the following year, then likely 3.7% more for each of three years after that. And every jolt of electricity may soon run you a few cents more. But it would have been worse if the commissioners who oversee the Department of Water and Power didn't have your back.

This board makes much of the fact that it tossed out management and employee perks such as memberships, sponsorships, even magazine subscriptions, while abandoning some consultant contracts and low-priority infrastructure projects.

But rates are still rising higher than they should because of the outrageously fat contract approved for DWP workers last year. That contract keeps pay for employees well ahead of wages for other city workers with parallel jobs in different departments, and further boosts it with raises of up to 6% a year for each of the next five years.

How did they do it? Who was in charge? Nobody. The current board's predecessors tried to rip up the contract last summer but were told by the city attorney that they had no authority over the salary portion of labor deals. Only the City Council had authority, But its members insisted they couldn't change anything without being sued. The contract was negotiated on the last mayor's watch, but he was already out of office. So someone, somewhere negotiated this labor contract, and we have to learn to live with it.

Meanwhile, workers in jobs ranging from receptionist to engineer routinely dump their posts in other city departments as soon as they can wangle their way into the DWP and get higher pay. Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers spends lavishly on campaign contributions and can bless or doom any candidate's quest for office.

The bottom line is that we're being played. The Water and Power board went to bat for you. Prepare to pay more. And conserve water.

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