Frustrated by prolonged contract talks, members of the union representing 8,000 employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power voted Sunday to authorize their leadership to call a strike, a union spokesman said.
The vote could lead to a strike by the end of August unless negotiators make significant progress toward a new contract, said Brian D'Arcy, business manager for Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The union's contract expired nearly 10 months ago.
A key question separating the two sides is whether workers will receive pay increases. The union is requesting an increase and DWP officials have refused, citing the city's fiscal problems.
The strike authorization was supported by 91% of union members casting ballots Sunday in Burbank, said D'Arcy, who declined to disclose the number of members attending.
"(The city) can't sustain more than a three- or four-day strike," D'Arcy said.
The union, which represents 8,000 of the DWP's 11,000 workers, struck for five days in 1980. D'Arcy noted that the vote authorizing a walkout might carry extra weight coming soon after Mayor Richard Riordan took office. "I wonder if the new mayor wants a full-blown water and power strike in the first three months of his term," he said.
A DWP official expressed disappointment with the authorization.
"This vote will, I think, create unneeded tension in the city family," said Joseph L. Hegenbart, assistant to the chief engineer for water and department services. "I'm hopeful there will be some acceptance of the city's difficult position this year."
The DWP is supported by rates, not by taxes. But the City Council would be hard-pressed to give raises to water and power workers while it denies raises to other employees, such as police and firefighters, Hegenbart said.