Glendale Water & Power layoffs under fire

Two Glendale Water & Power employees who received notices in the latest round of layoffs last week blamed city officials on Tuesday for making bad decisions when it came to the suffering utility. And one said he was targeted for being outspoken about his complaints.

Speaking to the Glendale City Council on Tuesday, James Griggs, a station electrician at Grayson Power Plant who has spoken at council meetings in the past about the state of Glendale Water & Power, also said the layoffs would ultimately hurt the utility.

The city issued layoff notices to more than two dozen employees at Glendale Water & Power last week, completing another round of cuts after shaving nearly 130 City Hall employees last month through early retirements and layoffs to close a $15.4 million budget gap.

“This is ill-planned and the consequences are harmful to the power plant,” Griggs said, with about a dozen members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 in the audience.

But City Manager Scott Ochoa defended the layoffs, saying they were tailored to increase efficiencies at the Grayson Power Plant, which faces severe infrastructure issues.

“When folks get distressed, they get emotional. They also get a whole lot wrong,” Ochoa said.

For years, maintenance issues have been cropping up at the Grayson Power Plant. Council members have said they don't want to pay for some improvements suggested by utility officials because they consider them too costly. Utility officials are currently studying plans for the future of the power facility.

Utility employees who are more than 50 years of age and have worked for the city for more than five years can take an early retirement option by the end of the month. More retirements mean fewer layoffs, Ochoa said.

The city has been locked in a battle with the IBEW since it came on board to represent employees at Glendale Water & Power last year. The city and union have yet to settle a contract and utility employees say the layoffs were premature.

Martin Marrufo, a spokesman for the union, said after the council meeting that the IBEW has filed a complaint with California's Public Employment Relations Board over what the union contends were premature layoffs.

“Instead of negotiating wages, they are laying our guys off,” Marrufo said.

Scott Nisbet, an underground distribution construction worker at the utility, also received a layoff notice, but as part of the city's “bumping” process, he was able to take a position in the Public Works Department at a 50% pay cut, he said. The change will make it harder for him to support his family, but he's faring better than others, he said.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” Nisbet said.

The cost-cutting measures had to be taken sooner rather than later in an effort to close a $10.8-million deficit at the utility, Ochoa said. The layoffs and retirements are expected to close about half that gap.

No one knows when union contract negotiations will wrap up, he added.

“This is not the city of GWP, let alone the city of IBEW. This is the city of Glendale,” Ochoa said.

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