[Updated after the jump with council-floor perspective from Bernard Parks, the L.A. City Councilman behind the push to gain city control of DWP pensions. Originally posted at 3:33 p.m.]
Some of the highest-paid utility workers in the nation -- those lucky enough to work for the L.A. Department of Water and Power -- are not about to let their retirement benefits near the drain of the current economic downturn.
Hundreds of passionate DWP employees swarmed outside the L.A. City Council meeting yesterday, showing councilmembers that they'd face an angry mob if they had the nerve to pass councilman Bernard Parks' latest cost-cutting ballot initiative.
If passed through council, it would have let voters decide whether to put DWP pensions under city jurisdiction -- meaning sure cutbacks to the incredibly bloated retirement paychecks. According to the current pension plan, a DWP employee who works 30 years on a $100,000 annual salary will receive $69,000 per year once he retires.
Representing union interests on the inside of City Hall was councilman Paul Koretz -- by far the DWP's best friend on council. (Of course, he halfway tried to mask his allegiance, but it couldn't have been more obvious.) Koretz represents City District 5, a ritzy patch of L.A. with a majority of white Democrats and a Beverly Hills bite out of the middle.
So why his interest in DWP? Could have something to do with the fact that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 union pumped $40,000 into Koretz' 2009 campaign, according to the Los Angeles Times. (You know, since DWP has all this extra money lying around after the March rate hikes.)
Ron Kaye, former editor of the LA Daily News, took a swing at the cowering City Councilmembers yesterday on his city-centric political blog. He wrote:
Showing the depths of his courage, Paul Koretz whined about how [union head Brian] D'Arcy would spend a fortune to crush any attempt to fix the DWP pension problems so he offered his unconditional surrender.
Kaye also posted this video, so we can see for ourselves the frightening hold that notorious bulldozer D'Arcy has on the helpless councilmembers:
"There's an old joke about, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," D'Arcy says in monotone. "Well in the land of bad ideas, this amendment is king."
Apparently, D'Arcy's winning logic was enough to convince councilmembers of their folly; the initiative was almost immediately withdrawn and tabled for committee.
The LA Daily News ran a story in 2007 that revealed the staggering salaries of DWP workers in comparison to their counterparts in other cities. The newspaper discovered that workers were being paid 20 percent more than the national average.
A searchable database for all DWP salaries circa 1997 is still up on the Daily News website. Findings included:
More than 1,140 of the utility's employees -- or about 13 percent -- take home more than $100,000 a year. And General Manager Ron Deaton, who is on medical leave, rakes in $344,624 a year -- making him the city's highest-paid worker.
Compared to the L.A. Controller's Office database of city-worker salaries, matching DWP job descriptions from 2007 are almost always listed as salaried at least $5,000 higher annually. There is no up-to-date DWP database available for public viewing.
Update: Councilman Parks, who proposed this whole shift of pension power in the first place, says he noticed a typical wave of "amnesia" in the room once his fellow councilmembers saw what they were up against yesterday.
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According to Parks, the overwhelming opposition to his proposal -- which included DWP trucks gathering outside City Hall to back up protestors, like some "Avatar" revenge sequence -- caused councilmembers to become confused and/or adopt an "I don't want to deal with this" anxiety.
However, Parks maintains that after three years of work, it's not in the city's best interest to let the the union and its precious pensions be. Besides, he said, the DWP simply doesn't have the budget to support it.
"The union has expressed no interest in revising their pensions, even though they're clearly just as unsustainable as the other two," he said.
"The other two" being pensions for police officers and those for all other city employees. Brand-new plans for the two non-DWP sectors were just unveiled today by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who projects they'll save the city $255 million for every 1,000 new hires. (Nothing to shout about, but every little bit counts. Too bad Villaraigosa can't cash in some of his box-office seats while he's feeling all heroic in the face of the deficit.)