Ron Kaye: Here comes the IBEW to pick your pockets

Hold on to your wallets, good folks of Glendale, union boss Brian D’Arcy of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 wants to pick your pockets.

If you think the piddling water rate hikes of 12% spread out over four years that were approved by the City Council last week were bad, consider this: D’Arcy virtually runs the L.A. Department of Water and Power, no matter who is the general manager, and has been getting IBEW members raises of 3% to 6% every year for the last seven years — even when cops and other workers are getting nothing.

That has a lot to do with why the L.A. Department of Water and Power rates have been skyrocketing and officials are seeking as much as 15% increases overall for each of the next three years in Los Angeles.

It didn’t just start. It has been going on for years, to the point L.A. utility workers — all 11,000 of them — average $96,805 each, which is nearly $30,000 more than other L.A. city workers, according to a recent Bloomberg News story.

L.A. Department of Water and Power carpenters were paid $102,732 on average; auto painters $109,192; cabinet makers $101,840; garage attendants $74,408; land-surveying assistants $123,333; air-conditioning mechanics $102,878, and audio-visual technicians $147,853.

When you look at the tough job of electric linemen, they get a salary of $113,796 — almost exactly what Burbank Water and Power linemen represented by the IBEW get, but $9,000 more a year than their Glendale counterparts, who are only now seeking to have D’Arcy and the IBEW represent them.

Last April, about 175 Glendale Water & Power workers broke with the main city employees union and signed up to join IBEW Local 18 in the belief that D’Arcy — the most powerful and feared union boss in Los Angeles — had won his members one lucrative contract after another, nearly 6% increases in some years, and given him significant control of the city’s utility and its policies.

Negotiations between Glendale and the IBEW have made little progress on the main issue — more money, a lot more money.

Two weeks ago, Glendale Water & Power workers packed the City Council meeting where water rate hikes were being discussed to send a clear signal that the fight for dramatic wage increases will surely escalate in coming days.

At a rally outside City Hall, D’Arcy’s assistant bully, Martin Marrufo, told the workers: “We want equality. We’re not the child, we’re equals.”

This is not child’s play, to be sure.

The IBEW doesn’t care who pays, or how; much as long as their members strong-arm the community for every cent they can get.

Every other union in Glendale has given back increases it had won, agreed to pay more for healthcare and benefits, and approved a two-tier pension system for new hires to help the city get through these tough economic times — and to protect jobs from elimination.

That isn’t the IBEW way.

This is a union that spends millions of dollars to control L.A. city elections, that spent $60,000 to try to control the Burbank City Council election last year.

This is a union that has fought green energy initiatives for years because you don’t need six-figure workers to manage solar energy and wind turbines the way you do the dirty, coal-burning power plants that L.A. has used to keep its rates lower than other cities in the region.

Back in the throes of another recession two decades ago, Richard Riordan won election as Los Angeles mayor with the promise “to turn L.A. around” — which meant, in part, eliminating the budget deficit and holding the line on employee wage increases.

Two months after Riordan took office in September 1993, IBEW workers went on strike. With the threat of utility services breaking down, Riordan gave in to City Council pressure and signed off on a 9% wage hike over three years, setting off demands among all city unions for the same raises.

Soon after, he admitted he had made a “mistake.” But the damage was done. Wages and benefits for all city workers soared and L.A. has been facing massive deficits, reduced services and deteriorating infrastructure ever since because of high payroll costs.

Let that be a warning to you, good folks of Glendale: the City Council may have split 3-2 to impose water rate hikes, but you will all have to stand together as one to fend off the desire of the IBEW to do to you what it has done to Los Angeles.

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

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