Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson in council chambers in City… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson moved Thursday to put the council squarely in the center of politically sensitive Department of Water and Power contract talks, saying he wants public hearings on the latest proposal and a deal by Sept. 1.
Weeks after Mayor Eric Garcetti said the latest proposal does not produce enough savings, Wesson announced that he wants the details of a July 25 contract proposal scrutinized by the council's in-house analyst and reviewed during at least two upcoming meetings.
"If there was ever a time to have one of the partners in the city family step up and perform shuttle diplomacy," Wesson said, "then that time is now."
The DWP contract is not set to expire until fall 2014. But city officials have been in talks for a deal this year, which would keep a previously scheduled pay raise from going into effect in October.
Wesson said Garcetti offered "legitimate concerns" about the July 25 salary proposal, which has been the subject of closed-door talks for weeks. But he also described the council as an "equal partner" in the negotiations with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents most DWP employees and is headed by business manager Brian D'Arcy.
"I want to properly bring the council up to speed" on the salary proposal, Wesson said. "I think we vet it and I think we have conversations with Mr. D'Arcy and with the mayor and see if there's a middle ground."
The contract negotiations represent a major test for Garcetti, who promised while running for mayor that he would be independent of the DWP and serve as a check on the utility. IBEW Local 18 and its affiliates spent $2 million to defeat Garcetti over the course of the mayoral campaign this spring.
Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the mayor was pleased to see there will be "a full and public analysis" of DWP salaries, pensions, healthcare and other issues. "The mayor has made clear that this deal doesn't go far enough ... and to have those issues aired out is a good thing," he said.
D'Arcy, the DWP union head, did not respond to a call from The Times.
Wesson announced his plans minutes after DWP ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel, who is charged with scrutinizing DWP spending, spoke favorably about some of the deal points contained in the latest salary proposal.
The proposal up for discussion calls for three years of zero raises for DWP employees, followed by a raise of up to 4% in October 2016, just before the next mayoral election. That raise was originally scheduled for this year, according to a memo outlining the deal.
If a deal is not completed by Sept. 1, Wesson said, there may not be enough time to get a final agreement to union members for a ratification vote.
The salary agreement would also require newly hired DWP employees to contribute 3% of their salary toward health coverage after they retire, up from zero. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget analyst, contends the proposal will save $6 billion over 30 years.
Pickel voiced support for the salary and pension changes but said he wants to ensure the agreement also allows DWP officials to make changes on work rules, such as those that govern the number of employees assigned to a task. "If [the agreement] includes the ability to redo work rules over the next few years, then I think we should sign the contract," he said.
Wesson said the contract talks began 16 to 18 months ago, when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was still in office and well before Garcetti was elected as his successor. Although a proposal has been presented to the city's five-member bargaining committee, it has not been debated at any public meetings.
Wesson said he wants at least two public hearings starting next week, with Councilmen Paul Krekorian and Felipe Fuentes playing key roles. Krekorian heads the council's Budget and Finance Committee and Fuentes heads the Energy and Environment Committee.