Riding the public gravy train

L.A.'s water and power utility plans to hand out bonuses and raises to its already well-paid employees. And an L.A. County supervisor has $707,000 to remodel his office. What's the deal?

L.A. City Hall

L.A.'s fiscal storm clouds haven't affected all city agencies, notably the Department of Water and Power. (Los Angeles Times)

If you're looking for work in this rotten economy, I've got a tip:

Run, don't walk, to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and apply for anything they've got.

A reader sent me a posting for an executive secretary position at the DWP, and the salary range is $68,089 to $97,864, with great benefits.

"A good secretary is worth her weight in gold," said my e-mailer. "Only in the Los Angeles DWP do they take that quite literally."

I like that line, but does a DWP executive secretary make more than his or her counterparts in other city departments?

Absolutely, and it isn't even close.

I checked with the personnel department and found that the same position in other city departments starts at $54,000 and ranges up to $72,000.

Top pay, in other words, is $25,000 more at the DWP, and the gravy train is not limited to secretaries.

A DWP custodian can make $50,000, compared to $36,000 in other departments. A DWP gardener tops out at $56,000, versus $46,000.

And it gets even better for the utility's employees.

Today, as my colleague David Zahniser tells me, the L.A. City Council is expected to approve a five-year deal for DWP employees that includes a bonus the first year and raises every year thereafter.

Did you just spit coffee on yourself?

If so, my apologies.

How could such a raise be justified when the state is in the midst of a ghastly fiscal crisis, unemployment is off the charts, cops have just been denied a raise and there's a humongous budget shortfall at City Hall?

It doesn't have to be justified. It's just the way things work in a bureaucracy controlled by the likes of Brian D'Arcy, the feared head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, which represents thousands of DWP employees. Any politician who wishes to belly up to the public trough, and stay there, wants to keep the powerful union boss happy.

In my new Talk Back feature on The Times' website, I asked readers Tuesday what they thought of the DWP raises, as well as a proposal by Los Angeles County supervisors to study a possible rehab of the Hall of Justice, where repairs for earthquake damage have been estimated at $100 million.

Readers went on a rampage.

"As a city of L.A. employee, subject to a 12% pay decrease due to forced Furlough Days (2 per month), I am having to put my home up for sale because I just cannot afford my mortgage; despite my frugal existence," RG wrote. "To see that DWP is opting for pay raises is very disheartening, to say the least."

"Looks like they get paid for every water main break," Da Maverick wrote.


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