While some individuals are known for their grandest and often last battle that establishes their reputation, newly elected Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, might be at his reputation establishing moment in his first stand as mayor – fighting both the city council and the union at the Department of Water and Power over a new DWP contract.
The cost of the DWP workforce, and therefore the cost to ratepayers to support the agency, was a major issue in the campaign that saw Garcetti elected. The union representing the DWP workers put up $2-million in support of Garcetti’s opponent. If that weren’t enough to have the two sides staring hostilely across a negotiating table over a new contract, the word “strike” has been tossed around by union allies on the city council.
A majority of the city council supported a proposal that would hold off any raise for four years and limit pension benefits for newly hired workers. Council members say the plan will save the city billions over time.
The mayor wasn’t buying in. There are other issues that concern the mayor, as well, such as work rules and healthcare benefits that add to the costs and which he says must be controlled.
City Controller Ron Galperin released a survey that shows there are 600 work rules that govern DWP workers and add to the cost of operations. Premiums and bonuses are offered workers being part of carpools, operating heavy-duty equipment, and working in difficult locations, to name a few. Overtime pay is awarded to DWP workers when outside contractors are hired.
Garcetti attempted to rally the citizens of Los Angeles to his side of the argument. On Monday, he met with leaders of the neighborhood councils seeking support on the DWP issue and revealed he has set up a website titled Fix DWP! to help convince the council that changes to the proposed contract must be made.
Apparently, turning up the pressure has had positive effects. Reports in a number of news outlets about negotiations in closed meetings indicate that the union has agreed to make further concessions.
The way this battle turns out will be an important marker for the new mayor. He can enhance his reputation as a reformer who will make major fiscal changes in Los Angeles, or he could be seen as a weak mayor from the start if the perception is the union and the council rolled over him.
A successful First Stand would pave the way for a successful term in office for Garcetti and he knows it.