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Another dose of Brian D'Arcy, the IBEW's chief and champion

June 06, 2013|By Patt Morrison
  • Brian D'Arcy has made IBEW Local 18, the biggest union at L.A.'s DWP, a formidable force for his workers and in City Hall.
Brian D'Arcy has made IBEW Local 18, the biggest union at L.A.'s… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Sitting across a negotiating table from Brian D’Arcy would be a formidable challenge, to say the least. Eyeball to eyeball with an adversary, he's probably not going to be the one to blink.

But sitting across a picnic table from him, as his union colleagues and friends would, could be highly entertaining.

Bracing or abrasive, depending on what table you're occupying, D’Arcy is the head of the Department of Water and Power's largest union, the International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers  Local 18, and the contract deals he’s negotiated for his members are the envy of other unions -- and the plague of some politicians.

He talks about them and City Hall and the new mayor, as well as the recent campaign, in my “Patt Morrison Asks” column.

D’Arcy is three-quarters Irish and all union, the grandson of a New York motorman who was best friends with Mike Quill, who organized the city’s transport union, a man legendary or notorious, depending again on what side of that table you’re on.

He has two BA degrees, and he talks with a cheerfully vivid and combative vocabulary that’s not often heard -- at least publicly -- in L.A.’s corridors of power. His opponents are “knuckleheads” and “idiots.” His beloved Hungarian grandmother was “a tough old broad.” An ill-conceived idea is “hogwash.”

One of his current battles with City Hall is over the pensions of about 1,600 employees the DWP hired over about half a dozen years -- city employees who were facing furloughs and layoffs if they had stayed at City Hall. Instead, they moved over to the separately operated DWP.

By becoming DWP employees, they were stepped up to often higher salaries and more generous pensions, with the city’s agreement.

But the city still hasn’t handed over a check for the difference for those pensions. Three years ago, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees voted to temporarily suspend that enhanced full pension for city employees hired by the DWP. The City Council vetoed it.

D’Arcy took the city to court to make it pay for that difference, an “unfunded liability” that, with interest, he says, is nearing $250 million.

“Why am I in court for two years? Because [council members] Jan Perry and Bernard Parks [dislike] the DWP.

“We’re in settlement court right now. We’re not going to let go. We’re going all the way to the Supreme Court. The city pension plan owes the DWP pension plan a quarter-billion dollars today.”

D’Arcy says he’s all for green and renewable energy, but he's not such a believer in Villaraigosa’s renewable energy goal methods and his present alternative energy sources.

The DWP's job is "to maintain base load [consistent energy supply]. If you don’t, this alternative energy is a bunch of hogwash.... I’ve been working in this industry for 30 years. Most people have one objective.” He leaned over and flipped a light switch. “That’s it. And they turn on the faucet, and there’s water.”

And to use a water metaphor, now you know why no one feels lukewarm about Brian D’Arcy.

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