Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 6 a.m.
Scott Ochoa had never met Brian D'Arcy, the head of the powerful electrical workers' union, when D'Arcy called him up in a rage last year. Ochoa, the Glendale city manager, was trying to work out an agreement on behalf of Glendale Water & Power, the city utility. D'Arcy didn't like how the negotiations were going.
"He immediately launched into a tirade," Ochoa recalls. "It was a lot of yelling, cursing, etc. Then I corrected him on a couple of points, and he hung up on me."
D'Arcy's tough tactics have made him into a feared figure at L.A. City Hall. He represents 90% of the workers at the L.A. Department of Water and Power. Over the last 20 years, he has yelled, screamed and repeatedly threatened to strike. He has spent heavily on city elections -- investing nearly $4 million this cycle in Wendy Greuel's campaign for mayor -- and won out-sized pay and benefits for his members.
Either Greuel or Councilman Eric Garcetti will be elected mayor next Tuesday. Either one will have to deal with D'Arcy. His union, IBEW Local 18, has a contract up for renewal next year. As the negotiations approach, tiny Glendale Water & Power can offer a lesson in hardball to its much bigger neighbor in Los Angeles.
Last week, after a year-long impasse, the Glendale City Council imposed a 1.75% pay cut on D'Arcy's union. Such a thing would be unthinkable in Los Angeles. In the last round of negotiations, in 2009, city negotiators counted it a great victory that D'Arcy's workers got a 3.25% bonus on top of their already lavish salaries, instead of a 3.25% raise in base pay.
But neither candidate seems much interested in using Glendale as a basis of comparison for L.A.'s negotiations in 2014. Garcetti, despite taking every opportunity to slam the "DWP union Super PAC," does not seem eager to rein in D'Arcy's salary demands in the way that Glendale has.
"There is a route to impasse," Garcetti said Monday. "That's not where I would start a conversation, because I want to sit down first and have a real conversation with people about the situation and what we can afford."
In a statement, Dave Jacobson, Greuel's spokesman, said that she too would not be guided by Glendale's experience. "She believes that no benchmarks should be set or be dictated by the media prior to all parties sitting at the table and collectively looking at the raw numbers in order to find common ground on spending cuts," Jacobson said.
In L.A., D'Arcy has freely threatened to strike if negotiations don't go his way. But in Glendale, IBEW does not have as tight a grip on the utility, and has not gone on strike. Ochoa, the city manager, says the utility has developed contingency plans in case of a labor action.
"I don't know that the notion of a strike holds a lot of power for their bargaining position," Ochoa says. "The politics of Glendale are a bit different. The residents are much more engaged. Folks don't respond well to those kinds of threats."
At the outset, D'Arcy's union was seeking something similar to the deal they received in L.A. -- a one-time bonus. The union also wanted to use DWP as a point of comparison for setting wages -- which Glendale rejected. City officials were facing a $15 million deficit, and said they couldn't begin to afford to pay L.A.'s salaries. Glendale wanted to bring IBEW into line with other city unions that had begun contributing more to their pension costs -- which D'Arcy's negotiators rejected.
"There's been two elements of their mantra," Ochoa says. "'We don't go backwards (in pay) and we don't negotiate for other unions.' We've sat across the table and said that the whole world has gone backwards... In this unprecedented time, maybe not going backwards means not losing any bodies."
That appeal did not move D'Arcy's negotiating team, so Glendale got to work negotiating with the other unions. After more than a year with little to no progress, Glendale declared an impasse and set about imposing a contract on IBEW. At the last minute, D'Arcy's negotiators came in with a final offer that included a smaller bonus payment, which Glendale rejected before imposing the pay cut.
Ochoa says that D'Arcy's union came into the city in 2011, promising members that they could secure higher wages and benefits. But that hasn't panned out so far.
"They picked the exact wrong moment in history to come in promising streets paved with gold," Ochoa says.
D'Arcy has ignored calls seeking comment.