By Ted AYALA
Unable to reach an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18 (IBEW), the Glendale City Council approved a 1.75% pay cut for the city’s utility workers. Contracted workers are also required to pay more for their health insurance, up to 75% of the increased cost of premiums put into effect last June. Strikes, staged sick days, walk-outs and other like actions are banned.
In the contract negotiations between the IBEW and the city, about a dozen proposals from both sides were presented. Their failure to reach an agreement eventually triggered the city’s action on Tuesday.
The imposition of the contract met with strong disapproval from utility workers, with over 200 of them crowding into the council chamber to speak against the contract.
The impasse between the IBEW and the city has endured since last March when Glendale made a “last, final, and best offer.” The city has since chosen to disengage from dialogue with IBEW.
“We find ourselves at a crossroads,” said City Manager Scott Ochoa of the impasse.
Director of Human Resources Matt Doyle said the unilateral action was being taken “with great reluctance,” though he reinforced the necessity for the city to proceed in order to shore up its utilities’ economic health and to bring Glendale’s IBEW members to parity with their peers in other cities.
“Understanding the real market costs of a municipal utility is essential,” he said. “Simply because IBEW represents all of the [surrounding area] utilities does not mean they are all the same. We need to factor that in when considering pay, benefits, and market forces.
“The economy is still very fragile,” Doyle added. “Wage and benefit increases would send the wrong message to our residents.”
Martin Marrufo, who was speaking on behalf of the IBEW, criticized the imposition of the contract very strongly, also adding that his union has found matters of “grave concern” with Glendale Water & Power (GWP).
“GWP has an aging infrastructure and no clear plan on how to replace it,” he said. “[It] is also beginning to hemorrhage staff primarily because of morale [problems]; it is atrocious on safety issues. None of these things can be addressed without a trained, safety-equipped staff and a professional workforce.”
Former GWP utility worker Martin Sagehorn said that he left the utility for work elsewhere because of what he considered mistreatment by the city. He also warned that imposing the current contract wouldcause other workers to flee.
“You guys come out and do our job for a week,” he said as supporters loudly cheered. “I don’t think you guys understand at all. It’s disgusting.”
“It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to come to an agreement,” said Councilmember Ara Najarian. “We have other bargaining groups we deal with that have acted in good faith. It would be patently unfair to all of them should we treat any group differently. It’s just unfortunate that the economic situation is the way it is, that we cannot afford to extend any more generous benefits, pay, and cost-sharing than we already have.”
“I am not anti-union,” added Councilmember Laura Friedman. “I come from a union family. It’s my hope that we can have a dialogue and that we can have something economically sustainable for the city. Because if we can’t do that, we can’t have any employees.”
Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan abstained from voting, citing inexperience with the negotiations, though he did express support for his colleagues’ unanimous imposition of the contract.
“I definitely agree that it’s fundamentally unfair to talk about raises during a time when other employees and labor groups have made some kind of sacrifice,” he said. “It’s also unfair to our residents. Any increases would have to be paid out by them. I don’t see how it’s feasible.”