Ron Kaye: Standing up to the town bully

The sparse front page of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 website expresses exactly the message Brian D'Arcy wants his members to get: Rotating photos of protesting workers waving "A DEAL IS A DEAL" signs.

It also features a "hot topics" box with a single four-year-old item about heroic workers, a one-sentence message with a mug shot of the union boss and a link to a story with the headline, "Union chief is wired into City Hall."

The story is a three-month-old column in the L.A. Times by Steve Lopez calling D'Arcy "feared, coveted, respected, reviled" and talks about how the IBEW plans to spend millions of dollars to get Wendy Greuel elected mayor and put more compliant City Council members into office.

D'Arcy is the king of bullies and IBEW Local 18 is the club he uses to force the docile leadership of L.A. to surrender to the outrageous demands he throws on the bargaining table under threat of a strike intended to shut off water and power to four million people.

A lot of people call that blackmail. But extortion tactics have worked so well that D'Arcy — with 95% of the workforce under his control — wields as much clout in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as the general manager. It's a fact that helped him in contracts with municipal utilities in Burbank, Pasadena and Azusa — cities under pressure to match wage rates at the LADWP, where workers average $100,000 a year, a 50% premium over other city workers for the same jobs and a 25% premium over other utility workers in the region.

Nobody says "no" to Brian D'Arcy. Until now.

On Thursday, Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa — after a year of being jerked around, threatened and harassed by D'Arcy and his minions during fruitless negotiations on an initial contract that long ago had reached an impasse — decided enough was enough.

He told the union the city was ready to unilaterally implement its last, best and final offer for Glendale Water & Power if the City Council agrees on Tuesday — an offer that includes a 1.75% pay cut.

Hooray for Glendale!

The pay cut doesn't mean much will be saved this fiscal year, but it sets a lower salary benchmark for negotiations with the IBEW for next year. Martin Marrufo, the IBEW spokesman, did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

"The important part here is we are establishing a lower baseline and demonstrating our commitment to compensation and pension reform to all of our employees, that there are no protected classes," Ochoa said. "And it signals to the community that we are equally serious in making sure we are negotiating for them in good faith. This is the city of Glendale, not the City of GWP."

It's a strategy not without risk. You can be sure that what happens will be watched closely by officials in other cities with IBEW contracts — even L.A., which despite its monumental budget problems, has won only modest concessions from other city unions in great part because DWP workers keep on getting richer.

In one of his first acts as mayor in 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa signed off on wage increases of up to 30% over five years for the DWP, and later for up to 4% a year even during the recession. It was a no-brainer for other unions to get 25% increases over five years in 2007.

Glendale has faced some cuts in services, but has also won significant concessions from its unions, even getting them to agree to pay some of the city's share of pension fund contributions, and is in as good a position as any city to weather the continuing economic volatility.

But giving in to D'Arcy would endanger the deals and healthy relationships with other unions.

"We are not hell-bent for a fight," Ochoa said. "What demonstrates that is we continued to talk with them, 'OK, we're at impasse, but for purposes of settlement, we're willing to throw other things on the table.'"

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how D'Arcy responds and the union explains what has happened, since it convinced a majority of Glendale Water & Power workers to join the IBEW with the promise of the lucrative wages and benefits enjoyed by LADWP employees.

It will be no less interesting to see how City Council members respond Tuesday night with the IBEW no doubt out in full force


RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World