WP adds to in-house work crews
Compromise with union means higher project costs
BY KERRY CAVANAUGH, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 04/17/2007 09:12:29 PM PDT
Despite concerns that DWP crews nearly double the cost of major pipeline construction projects, the Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a deal to expand the number of in-house crews.
The deal, approved without discussion, marked a compromise with the DWP union to allow the Department of Water and Power to contract out more pipeline work without union challenge.
The settlement ends a stalemate with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, which had sought to limit the use of outside construction contractors to build trunk lines, the massive pipes that carry water to smaller lines.
DWP managers wanted to use private contractors for the work after comparisons showed in-house crews roughly doubled both the cost and time of trunk line projects.
While DWP board members said the settlement was a fair compromise to get crucial water infrastructure upgrades moving, some community members were troubled that the utility will continue to use pricey DWP crews.
"If these differentials are this substantial, it is absolutely idiotic to contract in-house," said Jack Humpreville, who testified at the hearing. "Outside house, if properly monitored, makes much more financial sense to ratepayers and taxpayers of Los Angeles."
Under the settlement, DWP will add a third, 20-person crew to help build trunk lines. IBEW agreed to not challenge the hiring of outside contractors for 13 major water system construction projects.
DWP officials have estimated the upcoming trunk line projects will cost $737 million over the next decade, but could have cost as much as $1.3 billion if all were completed by in-house crews.
Neighborhood council activist Brady Westwater said the agreement was passed with little public notice, no community input and no disclosure of how much it will cost ratepayers.
"How can you say there is no fiscal impact when there is one?" Westwater said. "We don't know what they're doing. When they hide something like this, it's real hard to know what they're doing."
But DWP Board President David Nahai said the settlement was a compromise that will add staff but also allow the utility to save money with outside contractors.
"To add a third crew, which gives the department a certain amount of in-house capability, and to contract all of the rest of the work, should not be something that raises eyebrows," Nahai said. "We're trying to make sure we act in a way that's wise, fiscally."
But Councilman Greig Smith said city leaders know DWP employees are among the highest paid in the city at the same time they have refused to challenge IBEW over issues of pay and efficiency.
"Any time we do anything over there with their personnel, it is going to cost more. There are too many people over there and over here that are afraid to stand up to that union," he said.
Also Tuesday, the DWP board agreed to pay $2.1 million a year to the Joint Training Institute, a facility in Sun Valley run by the IBEW and co-managed by the DWP.
The institute was created by the union and DWP in 2002 to provide employee training and education. The DWP contributed $6 million through 2004, and the new agreement will provide continued funding.