Downtown L.A. streets blocked for union demonstration at DWP building

Hundreds of union workers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 flooded a section of downtown Los Angeles to protest what they characterized as a threat by city leaders to withhold an upcoming payment to two nonprofit training organizations affiliated with the Department of Water and Power.
(Christina House / For The Times)

Hundreds of union workers flooded a section of downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday to protest what they characterized as a threat by city leaders to withhold an upcoming payment to two nonprofit training organizations affiliated with the Department of Water and Power.

City leaders have been trying for months to gain access to the financial records of the nonprofit trusts, but union leaders have resisted.

Gathered in front of the DWP building across from the Music Center were members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents municipal utility workers, and the larger County Federation of Labor. Unions representing steel workers, hotel employees, stagehands, letter carriers and other non-DWP employees joined in the show of force.


Labor leaders contend that the city is threatening to halt a July payment to the nonprofits. If that happens, they say the city would break collective bargaining agreements that call for paying “critical training and safety programs.”

“What we want to communicate is, ‘Don’t fly in the face of a negotiated agreement,’” Maria Elena Durazo, the federation’s executive secretary-treasurer, said as workers nearby toted signs reading “A Deal Is a Deal.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti and other top city leaders have pressed the union for more transparency in explaining how the nonprofits spent some of the ratepayer money they have received in recent years.

The nonprofit trusts, the Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute, were created in the early 2000s after a contentious round of job cuts at the city-owned utility. The organizations, which have received more than $40 million in ratepayer funds, are charged with improving labor-management relations.

The trusts operated with little public scrutiny for years but drew new attention in September after The Times reported that DWP executives had only scant information about the groups’ finances. Since then, neither DWP officials nor union leaders, who co-manage the nonprofits, have been able to explain to city leaders’ satisfaction what the organizations have accomplished.

IBEW Local 18 Business Manager Brian D’Arcy, who sits on the boards of both trusts, has blocked attempts by City Controller Ron Galperin and City Atty. Mike Feuer to access the trusts’ detailed financial records.

Summary information released by D’Arcy in February show that last year the trusts spent $1.7 million, or 44% of their revenue, on salaries, benefits and automobile expenses for their employees. DWP records show the trusts had eight employees in 2013.

The nonprofits also paid $207,202 for “meetings, conferences and travel” in the last two years, but the records do not indicate who traveled or where they went.

In January Galperin subpoenaed the trusts’ bank records and demanded D’Arcy sit for an interview with city auditors. D’Arcy sued to squash the subpoenas in Los Angeles Superior Court and lost, but the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a stay while it reviews the lower court’s order to turn over the records.

D’Arcy, whose union spent millions supporting Garcetti’s chief rival in the 2013 mayoral election, has dismissed city leaders’ demands for transparency as “political posturing.” He argues that the nonprofits have helped improve safety at the DWP. He also maintains that the ratepayer-funded nonprofits are not public agencies and not subject to state open records laws.

Floyd Glen-Lambert, president of the western region of the Jewish Labor Committee, appeared at the protest and said the dispute over the trusts was “pretty black and white.”

“These are no longer city funds,” he argued. If the union handed over the information that the mayor and city officials are seeking, “it’s a slippery slope.... These trust funds are private nonprofits. The money does not belong to the city. It belongs to the employees.”

Joe Masterson, 53, of Long Beach has worked with ISS Construction for 10 years.

He said he feels how the trusts have spent money has already been outlined.

“There’s nothing being hidden,” he said. “I don’t see where the info hasn’t been presented to the administration.”

Masterson, who lives in Long Beach and works for DWP, said the safety training through the trusts makes sure workers -- especially those dealing with electricity -- go home safe every night.

He said the attack by the Garcetti administration is chipping away at an employee standard.

“DWP has had a history of pioneering safety procedures. If we let it fall to the wayside, people will get hurt,” he said.

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