Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson called Thursday for public hearings on the proposed contract with Department of Water and Power employees, saying he wants a deal on the contract by Sept. 1.
Wesson said Mayor Eric Garcetti has "legitimate concerns" about the latest salary proposal, which has been the subject of closed-door talks for weeks. But he also described the council as an "equal partner" in the negotiations with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents most DWP employees.
"I want to properly bring the council up to speed" on the salary proposal, Wesson said. "I think we vet it and I think we have conversations with [DWP union head Brian] D'Arcy and with the mayor and see if there's a middle ground."
Garcetti said last month that the proposal currently before the council did not go far enough in securing savings. The contract negotiations represent a major test for Garcetti, who promised while running for mayor that he would be independent of the DWP and serve as a check on the utility. IBEW Local 18 and its affiliates spent $2 million to defeat Garcetti over the course of the mayoral campaign this spring.
"If there was ever a time to have one of the partners in the city family step up and perform shuttle diplomacy," Wesson said "then that time is now."
Garcetti did not immediately respond to Wesson's announcement but said earlier today that he and the council president were "unified" on how to proceed. "I think yesterday I heard him say that the timeline won’t be dictated by anybody other than the city. So we’re on the same page there,” he said.
D'Arcy, the DWP union head, did not respond to a call from The Times.
Wesson announced his plans minutes after DWP ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel, who is charged with scrutinizing DWP spending, spoke favorably about some of the deal points contained in the latest salary proposal.
The proposal currently before lawmakers calls for three years of zero raises for DWP employees, followed by a raise of up to 4% in October 2016, just before the next mayoral election. That raise was originally scheduled to be awarded in October, according to a memo outlining the deal.
Under the plan, newly hired employees would be required to contribute 3% of their salary toward health coverage after they retire, up from zero.
Pickel voiced support for plans in the proposal to limit salary increases and pare back pension costs. But the ratepayer advocate said he wants to make sure the final agreement also allows DWP officials to make changes on work rules, such as those that govern the number of employees assigned to a task.
"If [the agreement] includes the ability to redo work rules over the next few years, then I think we should sign the contract," he said.
Wesson said the contract talks began 16 to 18 months ago, when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was still in office and well before Garcetti was elected to be his successor. Although a proposal has been presented to the city's five-member bargaining committee, it has not been debated at any public meetings.
City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, the top budget analyst, contends the proposal will save $6 billion over 30 years.
Wesson said he wants at least two public hearings starting next week, with Councilmen Paul Krekorian and Felipe Fuentes playing key roles. Krekorian heads the council's Budget and Finance Committee and Fuentes heads the Energy and Environment Committee.
The council president also wants an analysis of the proposed contract from Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, who works directly for the council.
Councilman Mitchell Englander, who sits on the city's negotiating committee with Garcetti, Wesson, Krekorian and Councilman Paul Koretz, said he is "not ready to sign a deal right now" and believes more work is needed.
"I’m not in any rush and I don’t see a clock ticking before us to quickly bring anything to a vote," he said.
Twitter: @davidzahniserCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun