Several top Los Angeles officials, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, are calling for changes to a policy that allows employees at the city's Department of Water and Power to collect unlimited sick pay.
The policy, revealed by The Times on Friday, allows employees to take paid days off well beyond the agency's stated cap of 10 per year.
Since 2010, the utility has paid $35.5 million in extra sick days, the Times investigation found. Last year, 10% of the department's roughly 10,000 employees took at least 10 extra days off, and more than 220 employees took at least 20 extra working days off.
In a motion submitted at Friday's City Council meeting, Councilman Paul Koretz said the policy should be investigated "promptly and publicly."
"Clearly, this policy permits abuse and lack of accountability, with the city and the city's ratepayers all at risk," Koretz's statement read. The motion, seconded by Councilmen Paul Krekorian and Mitch O'Farrell, calls for DWP managers and the utility's ratepayer advocate to report back to the council regarding the policy "and any possible abuses and reforms" within 30 days.
Garcetti also voiced concerns about the policy, which he said needs to be changed. An aide to City Controller Ron Galperin said he is considering launching an audit to look at the utility's sick-day system.
The utility's officials pledged to fix the problem while also seeking to downplay its scope.
DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said "a relatively small number of employees" had taken advantage of the policy. He noted that more than half of the utility's employees didn't take a single sick day in 2012.
Koretz said news of the sick-day policy was "a step back" for an agency that has often faced criticism over its well-compensated employees and perceived lack of transparency. DWP employees receive about 50% more pay than other city employees and 25% more than employees at other utilities in the region.
"These are exactly the kinds of things that have to be rooted out for the DWP to be the transparent, honest and effective organization we want it be," Koretz said.
The controversy over sick pay came as Garcetti took a hard line against any quick deal on a proposed new labor contract for more than 8,200 DWP workers.
"We won't be rushed into a decision until we look at all the details," Garcetti said Friday.
Brian D'Arcy, the DWP union leader who ran a ferocious campaign against Garcetti in the May election, has been trying for weeks to line up council support for a new salary agreement. The city's current contract with the union, Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, expires in fall 2014.
Under the deal, outlined in a memo obtained by The Times, DWP employees would forgo a scheduled raise of 2% to 4% that is supposed to take effect Oct. 1. They would also get no raises the next two years. In 2016, they could get a pay hike of up to 4%.
But the deal would not meet Garcetti's demand that DWP employees start to pay a share of their health coverage.
Newly hired employees, however, would have to contribute 3% of their salary toward retirement health coverage — up from zero for current employees. They would also face bigger salary deductions for pension coverage than what current workers pay.
After a private meeting with fellow members of the city's negotiating panel Friday, Garcetti played down the possibility of any power struggle with Council President Herb Wesson over the proposed deal.
"This city has been consistent in its unified negotiating stance to address pensions, healthcare costs and salaries," Garcetti said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times