By Ted AYALA
Throngs of Glendale Water & Power workers – joined by their colleagues from Los Angeles’ DWP and numbering in the hundreds – loudly paraded outside of Glendale City Hall Tuesday evening, many of them filling the chambers and the lobby on the first floor. The reason for their grievance is the rejection on Monday night by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 of the city’s contract proposal.
At the heart of the rejection was a requirement that would increase employee contributions to union’s retirement fund.
According to the city, GWP employees pay 8.5% of their salaries into their retirement funds. Of that the city covers .5%.
Many union employees made their way to the dais to respectfully air their grievances. Among them was James Dowell, a lifelong resident of Glendale with over 30 years of service with the GWP. He decried the city’s transferring of funds from the GWP to its general fund. The funds are used by the city to pay for public services.
“Due to this annual transferring of funds, GWP is unequipped to maintain its own infrastructure and incapable of providing a fair contract to its workers,” he said. “The money the city transfers to its general fund affects the [GWP] rate that residents pay – not the workers’ wages. The transfers are preventing the department from paying fair wages to retain a skilled workforce.”
James Briggs, who works at the Briggs Power Plant and is a six-year employee of the GWP, voiced his frustration at the council dais.
“If the goal of [Glendale] is to produce inexpensive and reliable power, I think we’ve missed the mark,” he said pointing to issues of aging infrastructure. “The phrase ‘pay me now or pay me later’ comes to my mind. The oldest steam generation system in Glendale was commissioned in 1941. Fifty to 60 percent of the auxiliary systems are the original systems. That includes motor control and wiring. Nothing lasts forever.”
Touching upon the reasons for his union’s rejection of the city’s offer, Briggs was direct.
“If you don’t pay a competitive wage, you won’t keep skilled people,” he said. “You lose that experience. It takes two years to fill in positions currently at GWP. It takes a long time to learn the trade. When you’re seeking for apprenticeship applications, Glendale will be the last choice. You won’t find a lineman that will come from DWP or Burbank to work here. In other words, you’ve created a training ground: [apprentices who become skilled] are just leaving. If skilled workers have a choice that makes more sense, they’ll leave. We need the city to support the GWP as a whole – and we need a fair and equitable contract. [Does Glendale] really want to be at the bottom of a utility wage scale?”
When asked for a statement on the issue, City Spokesperson Tom Lorenz declined to comment.
“The rejection of the last and final [contract proposal] would be on [the IBEW],” he said. “We don’t discuss negotiations publicly.”
Inquiries with the IBEW had not been returned as of this article’s publication.