Story by Dan Kegel
If you’re interested in what’s going on at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and how neighborhood activists feel about it, you can stay on top of things by attending the monthly LADWP/Neighborhood Council MOU meetings. The meetings were created to facilitate communications between the utility and the city’s 95 neighborhood councils…but they are open – and often of interest – to all city residents.
At this month’s DWP Oversight Committee meeting, held on Saturday, August 5, LADWP General Manger David Wright spoke for half an hour about the DWP’s much-discussed recent labor contract. He said the DWP had been losing half its new linemen to utilities with better pay, but now that raises have been approved, some of the linemen that left have been calling to see if they can come back.
In fact, Wright said, DWP had been losing as many as half of its new linemen within a few weeks of their graduation from the city’s $500,000 training program. Also, DWP’s veteran linemen often take top honors at the Lineman Rodeo, and then they’re swarmed by competitors, which can offer benefits such as double-time overtime. LADWP was only offering time-and-a-half, but now, with new contract, linemans’ salaries will be bumped by 2% this year and next, and they will receive double-time overtime, as well as a bonus for hazardous duty.
Wright also said that DWP will, for the first time, start conducting annual performance reviews for all employees, and that the Joint Training and Joint Safety Institutes (non-profit trusts between between the DWP and its workers union, IBEW Local 18) will be no longer be funded by LADWP (which isn’t surprising given the City Controller’s scathing 2015 audit of the organizations).
Saturday’s audience praised DWP and the city’s Ratepayers’ Advocate, Fred Pickel, for doing a public report on total compensation before the labor negotiations began, but some audience members, including the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s DWP MOU representative, Jack Humphreville, also said they had hoped for a more transparent process, echoing the 2015 LA Times editorial calling for a Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance.
The meeting also touched on two new water projects:
First, a widely opposed proposal from a private company, Cadiz, Inc., to pump groundwater from the Mojave Desert to sell to cities in Southern California. (In addition to disapproval from conservationists, the DWP also opposes the measure, and has recommended that LA Mayor Eric Garcetti support a California Assembly bill that would prevent such water transfers.)
Second, the Governor’s Delta Tunnel project, which won’t increase the amount of water we get from up north, but will make it less salty and more predictable.
The meeting closed with a brief update on the DWP’s new effort to study what it would take to get to 100% clean electricity. Ratepayers’ Advocate Pickel said he is impressed with the team assembled to explore that goal.
If you are interested in how Angelenos get their water and electricity, and you’ve actually read this far, these meetings are for you. And did I mention there are free donuts?
[Dan Kegel is a software engineer, environmental advocate and member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Sustainability Committee. ]