After impasse with IBEW, Glendale City Council imposes pay cut on utility workers

More than 200 Glendale Water & Power employees and their union comrades packed City Hall Tuesday night to protest a contract that cuts their pay by 1.75%.

Despite the showing, the City Council — unable to reach a deal with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, the union representing the utility workers — voted unanimously, with one abstention, to impose the contract, which also requires workers to temporarily pay more for their own health insurance.

[This post has been corrected, please see note below for details.]

The move comes after nearly two years of unsuccessful negotiations with the Los Angeles-based union, which that also represents water and power workers in Los Angeles and Burbank.

IBEW spokesman Gus Corona attributed the contract terms not to budget concerns, as Glendale officials cited, but to what he claimed was an anti-union philosophy.

“It’s more about busting the unions, that’s what it’s about,” Corona said, as IBEW members whistled and clapped.

Mike Sagehorn, a former Glendale Water & Power employee who left about nine months ago because he was upset with how the utility treated workers, said others will quit, too.

“You guys are going to lose more,” he said.

The contract, which takes effect May 16, will last through the fiscal year, which ends June 30, but will stay in effect until another contract is agreed upon, said city spokesman Tom Lorenz.

The union sent a counter-proposal to city officials Tuesday morning, but Ochoa said the contract was “insignificantly different” and didn’t merit consideration.

The City Council, meanwhile, defended the decision to impose terms, citing protracted negotiations and the need to tamp down on costs.

“The council did not come to this decision easily nor rashly,” said Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian. “It’s unfortunate that we were not able to come to an agreement.”

In addition to the pay cut, the contract requires utility workers to pay 75% of the increased costs for health insurance that took effect last June. It also bans strikes, walkouts, staged sick days and other work stoppages.

“This isn’t going to be the end, future negotiations will come with the IBEW,” Mayor Dave Weaver said. “As long as I’m a councilman here, I won’t be willing to give away the taxpayers’ money of this city to one group of employees at the expense of all others.”

Councilman Zareh Sinanyan abstained from the vote because he hadn’t been part of the years-long negotiations.

The IBEW filed a lawsuit in March asking a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to order stakeholders to assign mediators to help resolve the contract dispute.

A court meeting on the matter in downtown Los Angeles is scheduled for next month, but neither City Atty. Mike Garcia nor union spokesman Martin Marrufo would comment on what the council’s decision this week means for the legal matter.

After the city agreed to allow IBEW to represent Glendale utility workers in 2011, both sides began to negotiate a new contract, but an agreement proved elusive. The city presented a final offer on March 29, 2012. It was rejected by union members soon after it was presented.

During negotiations, IBEW officials presented multi-year proposals seeking 4% cost-of-living raises retroactive to July 1, 2011 and enhancements in specialty pays. But city officials argued the terms would be excessive and unrealistic since other employee groups have not received similar adjustments, according to a city report.

The union dropped the 4% raise requirement after the two sides hit an impasse, but would not agree to paying 1.75% more toward pensions, Doyle said.

In all, the two sides presented at least 11 proposals during contract negotiations, according to a city report.

Tuesday marked the second time the City Council has enacted across-the-board pay cuts on employees.

In 2010, the council implemented a 1.5% pay decrease for rank-and-file employees via a seventh-month contract because their union, the Glendale City Employees Assn., would not contribute more towards pensions.

After the move, the union agreed to have its members give 1% more of their paychecks towards pensions, said Human Resources Director Matt Doyle. But the 1.5% pay cut continued without across-the-board raises.

City officials have been adjusting union contracts as revenues have dipped in recent years due to the protracted recession because employee costs, from healthcare to pension benefits, have increased in tandem, Doyle said.

IBEW members pay 8.5% of their paychecks towards their retirement benefits, while other employee groups pay up to 12.5%.

“Wage and benefit increases at this time would send the wrong message to our residents,” Doyle said.

[For the Record, May 8, 2013: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a 1.5% pay cut imposed on Glendale City Employees Assn. members on Nov. 2, 2010 was temporary. While the seven-month contract was replaced with a new one effective July 1, 2011, the pay cut continued as the employee group has not received across-the-board raises.]


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