Friday, May 11, 2007

Latest Update On DWP Follies!

Below is my update on the DWP in today's CITYWATCH:

View from Here - Down the Rabbit Hole with the DWP!
By Brady Westwater

Since CityWatch reported that the Department of Water and Power's surrendering to the Union over who rebuilds the city's water trunk lines was kept hidden from the public, goings on within the DWP's rabbit hole have gotten curiouser and curiouser. More on that later.

First the good news.

Since Ron Deaton approved a new five year Memorandum of Understanding between the Neighborhood Councils and the DWP that gave Neighborhood Councils everything they asked for, a record number of NC's are signing the document. And, on most issues, the DWP has gone to great lengths to keep NCs informed and the new board has been very engaged when it comes to looking after the public's best interests – with one major exception.

The bad news is that the NC's are just realizing they have been hoodwinked. All this time, they have been negotiating with the wrong people. The real shot-callers are not in the executive office or at the Board of Commissioners--they are behind locked doors at Union headquarters.

The reason for this power is that that IBEW has quietly unionized much of the normally non-unionized management - which the previous boards cluelessly agreed to - so that much of management would be required to go on strike, making it impossible to run the DWP. A perfect set-up for blackmail even without all the protection money, I mean campaign contributions, made by the union folks to both the Mayor and members of the city council.

The first indication of who really runs the DWP came when a previous Board approved a blatant giveaway of almost two million dollars in public funds. They executed an unsecured loan for building eclectic scooters to an unqualified out of state company. A more experience company existed right here in Los Angeles. The fact that much of this money ended up in the pockets of workers …represented by a union friendly with the leaders of the DWP's union (widely reported at the time of the contract) - I'm sure was a total coincidence. The DWP was never paid back one dollar of that loan and the rate payers of the DWP got a very healthy seven figure sum added to their collective rates.

The second indication of who really rules Rabbitania was the last wage settlement. It pushed many DWP employees far beyond the salaries paid almost anyone doing the same work anywhere in the country – much less any other employees of the City of Los Angeles

This power explains why the DWP Board felt that it had no choice but to hire a third in-house trunk line work crew. This even after the Daily News revealed that a DWP crew could take up to twice as many men, twice as much money to do the work of a privately contracted crew.

According to the Daily News article – this surrender to the union was considered a victory by many on the DWP board because, if the union had managed to take control of 13 other projects, the cost to rate payers would have been an extra half-billion dollars. Yes – it costs a half-billion less for private workers to do the exact same jobs as DWP workers. Scary – huh?

What the Daily news did not report, though, was that the hiring of this new work crew was never even hinted at in the publicly noticed agenda item. Nor did the article mention that the underlying document, that should further explain and clarify the agenda item, also made no mention that a third trunk line crew was going to be hired. In addition, the public was not allowed to speak during general public comment at the start of the meeting or before this item was voted upon. Further, according to witnesses, the public was also never told what the Board was voting on---before or after the vote was taken.

Now, I don't know how many violations of the Brown Act that is--I ran out of fingers to count on – but those seemingly multiple Brown Act violations may turn out to be the least of the Board's problem.

What could – and should - invalidate the entire board approval of the labor contract was a statement in the public documents prior to the meeting that there was no fiscal impact involved within this agenda item since the fiscal impact was judged to be “n/a”– not applicable.

That is, of course, totally false. To begin with, there is the cost of hiring an entire new work crew. Then there are the administrative costs connected with all these new workers. Then there are the lifetime medical and pension benefits for this new crew.

So how can the DWP claim that hiring a third in-house trunk line team has no financial impact? I don't know. But we might soon find out since the NC/DWP MOU Oversight Committee last Saturday unanimously recommended individual that Neighborhood Councils ask their city attorney rep's if the DWP's egregious lack of any public notice – or comment on this agenda item – along with the DWP mislabeling this item as having no fiscal impact when it had one makes the approving of this contract an illegal act..

If it turns out this action was against the law, Rabbit Land will never be the same again.

And now comes the curiouser and curiouser part.

Of all the things I did not expect after the first article about the DWP – it was multiple phone calls from different DWP workers thanking me for exposing what happened at the DWP board meeting. They also wanted to thank CityWatch for helping expose what has been happening for years at the DWP. Repeatedly, they told me they were embarrassed by their union and by the fact that they felt it necessary to call me from pay phones, blocked numbers and disposable cell phones to protect their jobs and their safety.

They are angry and tired, they told me, of being made to look like incompetents by a system that instead of encouraging their best efforts, is instead designed to make it impossible for DWP's own crews to be competitive with the private market place.

They had hoped, they said, that this negotiation with the union would – finally – shine the light on this story so that the DWP board could stand up the union.

This is where the Neighborhood Councils come in. NCs need to demand that elected officials examine these allegations of massive waste within the DWP. And if true, to ask how a union can make it impossible for DWP workers to be only half as efficient as private workers – and why the DWP Board was afraid to publicly address this issue and confront the union's leaders in a way that even many of the union’s members wished they had.

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