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City Council approves DWP raises, including sharp pay hikes for some workers

Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Mayor Eric Garcetti supported a Department of Water and Power labor contract that will provide significant pay raises for some workers.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is backing a new salary package for the Department of Water and Power that includes a significant hike in pay for hundreds of workers.

The Los Angeles City Council approved the labor deal Tuesday in a vote of 11-0.

Under the agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, roughly 10,000 workers will receive four “cost of living” pay increases totaling at least 10% and as much as 24% by October 2025, depending on inflation.

All workers will also get a one-time cash bonus of 3% of their salary in December.

More than 800 utility line workers and electrical mechanics will get four additional raises. Those separate packages range from at least 20% to as much as 41%, according to a Times analysis.

Counting up all the raises, some workers could see their salaries rise more than 74% over the four-year period.

“The mayor supports the outcome of the negotiations between DWP and IBEW Local 18 and believes this contract will put the city in a strong position to maintain and attract a skilled workforce to deliver our most critical city services,” said Harrison Wollman, a spokesperson for Garcetti.

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The union’s political arm was a heavy independent spender in the 2022 election, putting more than $1.4 million into a political action committee to support Mayor-elect Karen Bass. It also contributed to the campaigns of Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Mitch O’Farrell and Curren Price, along with newly elected Councilmembers Tim McOsker and Traci Park.

The pay hikes and other agreements in the proposed contract would cost the city $55.9 million to $111.8 million annually, according to the DWP.

A 2021 DWP report found that electric mechanics’ pay is in line with that at other utilities. The report also noted that “the ranking may not be high enough to attract the numbers of staff required to complete work.”

DWP General Manager Marty Adams said in an interview that the pay increases for line workers and electric mechanics is intended to stay competitive with other utilities and private contractors and described a “flat-out shortage” of available workers.

“There is poaching constantly,” Adams said.

Under the agreement, healthcare benefits will be extended to retirees’ spouses. The agreement will also extend overtime pay to some workers.

The agreement includes the creation of a new retirement fund, requiring the utility to contribute $150 a month toward each worker’s account. This applies only to recently hired DWP workers — about 5,000 of them — and those who join the utility in the coming years.

City Council members opted not to have a public hearing on the labor deal at the council’s personnel committee, where such agreements are typically vetted.

The council also bypassed the personnel committee in 2017 when passing IBEW’s salary package — a move that drew criticism of a lack of transparency in dealings with the union.

A spokesperson for City Councilman Paul Koretz, who chairs the committee, declined to comment Monday.

Koretz wasn’t present for Tuesday’s vote, which drew dozens of DWP workers to council chambers. Councilmembers Cedillo and Kevin de León, who have not appeared at meetings in weeks following revelations about their role in an inflammatory 2021 conversation with a prominent labor leader, were also absent.

IBEW 18 business manager Gus Corona called the contract “fair” and urged the council to pass it.

“We’re doing everything we can to retain the highly qualified and highly trained personnel that we have here at the DWP, and this contract will ensure for the next four years we’ll be able to do that,” said Corona.

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Corona declined to speak to The Times about the agreement.

The DWP board, comprising Garcetti appointees, approved the salary package last month, sending the proposal to the council.

Under the agreement, the utility’s electric distribution mechanics and their supervisors, who are known as line crew, will get a salary increase of 15% retroactive to October. That group will get another 5% increase in October 2023.

Those groups will also be in line for salary increases of up to 8% in 2024 and another 8% in 2025. The amount will depend on the rates paid to competitors who work for private contractors and other utilities.

All told, those line crew workers will see their salaries rise dramatically over the next four years. Under a formula that uses the middle range of inflationary costs and competitive salary estimates, line crew workers’ salaries would rise by more than 52% over the course of the four-year agreement. Using the high range of inflationary costs and competitive salary estimates, line crew salaries would rise by 74%.

Another group of employees, electrical mechanic and electric mechanic supervisors, will get a major boost in pay, receiving a raise of 4.5% that’s retroactive to Oct. 1. They will also get a salary adjustment of 4.5% for each of the next three years.

Garcetti’s handling of the last two union agreements contrasted sharply with 2013, when the newly elected mayor — who campaigned on protecting DWP ratepayers — initially blocked the approval of a four-year contract so he could see more concessions from IBEW 18.

In the last two labor deals, however, the mayor has forgone a hard-line approach, even abandoning his plan to convince DWP employees to start contributing to their healthcare costs.

Times staff writer Julia Wick contributed to this report.

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