Ron Kaye: Glendale Power Assn. vs. IBEW

The moral premise of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 as often expressed by union boss Brian D'Arcy is clear and to the point:

"My responsibility is to look after the welfare of my members."

The narrow worldview that puts the IBEW on par with greedy bankers, polluting corporations and so many others in this narcissistic era has worked pretty well for employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Through good times and bad, they have gotten raises every year for the past eight years, sometimes as much as 5.9%, and overall make as much as 40% and 50% than others in the city workforce.

In 2010, that promise of huge raises lured Glendale Water & Power workers to pull out of the Glendale City Employees Assn. and join Local 18.

But instead of pay raises, they have gotten pay cuts. And three years later, they don't have a contract — which isn't exactly looking after the welfare of members very well.

That's what prompted Greg Strong to get the 20 other power plant operators to join him in signing cards to pull out of the IBEW and form their own labor organization, the Glendale Power Assn.

On Wednesday at a hearing before City Manager Scott Ochoa that is required under city ordinance, Strong got to make his case for recognizing his breakaway union, the IBEW got to state why their petition should be denied and other city unions got to have their say.

"We would prefer to choose our unit, our own representatives, our own organization. We have demonstrated that we can better represent ourselves," Strong told Ochoa. "If we get recognized, I know these guys are ready. We feel we can best represent ourselves."

Pressed to explain why other Glendale utility workers, especially maintenance and others who work at the power plant were not involved, Strong said there was interest from a lot of workers besides the operators but they are waiting to see what happens.

"Maybe they're afraid to separate from the IBEW. There's a big intimidation factor," Strong said.

You can't put it more gentlemanly than that.

Local 18 under D'Arcy's leadership has earned a well-deserved reputation as a bully, threatening to shut off the water and power supply to L.A.'s four million people if city officials — many elected with millions of dollars from the IBEW — didn't give into his demands.

His extortion tactics have created a "DWP wage gap" and contributed to soaring water and power rates even as L.A. deals with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a poverty rate of more than 25 percent.

The "intimidation factor" was clearly in evidence at Wednesday's hearing both inside and outside the City Council chamber.

In the hallway, IBEW assistant business manager Gus Corona confronted Craig Hinkley, president of the Glendale City Employees Assn., for daring to suggest that all employees should "have the ability to be represented by those they feel most comfortable with" and for offering to welcome the power plant operators back into the fold if they want to rejoin.

In front of several witnesses, Corona threatened "to get" the city employee union and its president, an apparent violation of state law protecting public employees.

For his part, IBEW lawyer Bill Heine, chose to ignore the ground rules set out by Ochoa at the outset and repeated numerous times: This was not an adversarial hearing but a chance for each side to present their point of view and the facts supporting their position.

Signaling his intention to sue if the IBEW doesn't win, Heine brought a court reporter with him and disrupted the proceedings dozens of times with objections about relevancy and materiality, demanded the right to cross-examine witnesses and called for Ochoa to be removed because of bias although the city has taken no position on the issue.

In fact, that was what the hearing was about, to hear presentations from all interested parties so Ochoa can decide, based on legal criteria, whether to recognize the renegades.

Under the city's employee relations ordinance, a new union should be recognized by the city based on meeting a series of specifics such as assuring "employees the fullest freedom in the exercise of their rights" as well as their community of interest, the effect on efficiency of operations and the impact on the job classification structure.

Heine would have none of it, saying at the end of his lengthy presentation, "If there are any other presentations here, I should have the right to respond to those."

"The process I outlined at 8:30 is the process we're talking about here at 10:30," Ochoa said, making it clear that he should make whatever statement he wants "here today right now."

Ochoa finally lost his patience as Heine repeatedly interrupted Strong and Don Dorroh, vice president of the Glendale Power Assn., with objections to just about everything they said.

"So thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr. Heine. Thank you, Mr. Heine," Ochoa said, his voice rising to a shout to drown out the lawyer.

"If you would like, sir, what we can do at this point in time is to allow you to excuse yourself because you will still be allowed to make a written statement to us encompassing all of your past… fury about the inappropriateness of the statements and testimony provided by these two employees …

"Would you like to clear the room, would you like to clear the room. Then please, then please, hold on you will be able to make every objection within that written statement."

It was all just theater to intimidate and set up grounds for a costly lawsuit. You can be sure that whatever decision Ochoa makes after receiving written submissions on Aug. 19 that he will do everything he can to make it defensible under city and state law.

There is no other way to deal with bullies.


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

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