The union representing Glendale Water & Power employees has filed a lawsuit asking a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to order stakeholders to assign mediators to help resolve a months-long contract dispute.
The Public Employee Relations Board, a quasi-judicial agency charged with overseeing public bargaining units, has agreed with the city of Glendale in denying a request by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 for mediators because the union applied too late.
The state board, the IBEW contends, is misinterpreting state law, according to court documents.
In an email this week, City Atty. Mike Garcia declined to comment on the matter except to say that the city disagrees with the IBEW’s contention “and will defend the lawsuit.”
IBEW spokesman Martin Marrufo declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was filed March 19.
The lawsuit comes after Glendale utility workers and their counterparts in Los Angeles protested several times outside City Hall, setting the stage for the most contentious contract negotiations the city has seen since one involving firefighters in the 1970s.
IBEW and the city have had a combative relationship since 2011, but the latest conflict originated last year when city officials offered a final contract that would require utility workers to pay more for their retirement benefits or take a 1.75% salary cut.
In addition, city officials refused to mimic salary increases granted at other cities, according to court records.
After declaring an impasse with the General City Employees Assn. in 2010, the City Council enacted an across-the-board 1.5% pay cut. The council has yet to do that with utility workers despite declaring an impasse almost a year ago.
Councilman Ara Najarian said that’s partially because the IBEW is a new Glendale union and the City Council wants to build a relationship based on trust.
“IBEW is here to stay. I think it’s important to try and build a relationship,” he said, adding though that “in fairness to the other unions, the city has to do something at some point.”
Councilwoman Laura Friedman also said that rather than imposing terms, she prefers negotiating.
“Having to impose like that is really the last resort,” she said.
Utility workers currently contribute 8.5% of their paychecks for pensions, but according to the city’s last contract offer, officials want that figure to be 9.75%. Other city unions pay between 9.5% and 12.5%.
IBEW contends the city negotiated in bad faith because after union and city officials met to discuss a counter-proposal, the city failed to provide an official response. Instead, Glendale threatened in October to lay off 28 employees considered by the union to be outspoken IBEW supporters.
But Human Resource Director Matt Doyle said in a letter to the union that the threat was prompted by Glendale Water & Power’s weak financial condition and a scale-down in planned capital improvements.
Neither Garcia nor Marrufo, the IBEW spokesman, confirmed this week whether 28 employees had indeed been laid off.
A trial-setting conference is set for June in downtown Los Angeles.