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Union mails voters a video depicting DWP 'in crisis'

December 17, 2007|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

The union that represents workers at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has begun sending voters copies of a DVD that portrays the agency as a system "in crisis."

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 18, which represents 8,000 DWP employees, mailed the eight-minute video along with a letter urging ratepayers to contact Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and their City Council member about the state of the nation's largest municipal utility.

"You can regard this as a first installment," said Bob Cherry, a union consultant, who added that the 30,000 DVDs were sent in large part to highlight the need for additional hiring at the utility.

DWP Commission President Nick Patsaouras voiced dismay over the campaign, saying he thought he and other utility officials had reached an accord with the union's business manager, Brian D'Arcy, over issues such as attrition and the need to repair decades-old equipment that delivers electricity and water to the city's 4 million residents.

"I'm just flabbergasted, because I thought that this issue was behind us," said Patsaouras, one of four commissioners -- a fifth seat is vacant -- on the mayor-appointed board overseeing the utility.

Although a much smaller shipment of DVDs was sent last summer to city officials, the videos began arriving at the homes of voters last week, just as the council delayed until Feb. 20 making a decision on two years' worth of proposed rate hikes.

The campaign also coincided with the arrival of H. David Nahai, the DWP's new general manager, who started Dec. 1. Each letter provided the phone numbers for Villaraigosa, Nahai and the local council representative.

Union representatives did not return calls Friday seeking comment. But the letters that accompanied the DVDs, which were mailed to an estimated 2,000 voters in each of the 15 City Council districts, argued that Los Angeles' electrical and water systems may not be able to cope with future heat waves and a steadily growing population.

"Watch this short video and then contact the following decision makers and ask them what they are doing to properly staff and update the water and power systems in our city," the letter states.

The union has been increasingly pugnacious in its dealings with the public. It sued the Los Angeles Daily News and lost after that newspaper published the names and salaries of all DWP employees. Union activists also attended a Villaraigosa speech on global warming last summer to demand more hiring.

Much of the union's message has centered on the need to upgrade the DWP's equipment, from receiving stations to neighborhood transformers. The DVD, which features footage of D'Arcy, uses ominous music and blurred images of utility workers as it warns that 40% of the workforce will retire in the next five years.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who received the DVD at her home last week, said she has not received any calls from constituents about the union's campaign. Still, Greuel said council members delayed the vote on the rate increases because they still want answers about hiring and repairs.

"You can sense the frustration by this council with the DWP and its sometime lack of transparency and inability to address issues we think are important," she said.

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