Judge not inclined to let DWP keep salaries and names secret

The exterior of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power buiilding.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)
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Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant stared in disbelief Tuesday at a list of hundreds of Department of Water and Power employees who have asked that their names and salaries be withheld from the public, citing safety concerns.

On the list were mechanics, typists and meter readers.

“This is frivolous on its face; I mean, these are DWP employees,” Chalfant said, noting that the names of government employees are public and even undercover police officers have a hard time demonstrating they would be in danger if their names appeared on a list of department employees.

“Judges have security risks. That doesn’t mean my name and my salary don’t have to be disclosed,” Chalfant added.
He ordered a lawyer for the largest DWP employees union to return Aug. 1 with a whittled-down list that includes only employees who can prove a legitimate safety concern. The union filed a lawsuit last month seeking to block the department from disclosing to the Los Angeles Times the names and salaries of members who claimed they had a safety concern.


“The odds are nobody is going to be excused from having their name disclosed,” Chalfant said.

Tuesday’s hearing was the latest round in a fight that began in early February, when The Times filed a California Public Records Act request for the DWP’s payroll data. At the time, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents about 90% of department employees, was the largest single cash contributor in the Los Angeles mayor’s race.

The union spent more than $1.65 million in an effort to elect City Controller Wendy Greuel, who lost the May 21 election to Councilman Eric Garcetti.

On May 22, the department released five years of payroll data with nearly 1,200 of the roughly 10,000 employees’ names redacted.

Overall, total pay for DWP employees rose 15% between 2008 and 2012, despite the economic slump that ravaged the city’s budget and drove down median household incomes in Los Angeles. Total pay includes salary, overtime and a wide range of other compensation such as unused sick and vacation time and cost-of-living bonuses.

The average DWP employee, including everyone from the highest-paid engineers to the lowest-paid temps, made $101,237 in 2012, the data show.


Among the job titles that saw the biggest average pay increases over the last five years were custodians, up 25%, from $56,060 to $69,995.

Welders’ and machinists’ pay grew 18% on average to $132,548 and $142,562, respectively. Those figures represent full-time employees who worked entire years in 2008 and 2012.

Employees seeking anonymity made $110,730 on average in 2012, 12.4% more than workers whose names were released.

Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.