By Tony Wilkinson

Negotiations were continuing on the morning of the City Council meeting. Tuesday, June 7 was one of those extraordinary days when you don’t know what will happen at a City Council meeting until it happens. The chamber was packed with city workers. IBEW Local 18, DWP’s dominant union, also dominated the audience with their white Union Leadership shirts that sported a big 18 on the back. Coalition of City Unions leaders sat up front, with a very different agenda.

The big issue was negotiated Civil Service reform. That is the only reason for the rush to the November ballot. The proposed language says that Civil Service rules can be changed through a binding labor agreement. Since that potentially alters the rights of existing workers, it needs to go on a general election ballot. If not November, it would need to wait until 2018.

Leaders of the general city workers have pointed out that this provision does not guaranty any reforms, that it will be a secret process, and that it will limit the ability of city workers to transfer to equivalent jobs at DWP. On June 7, they argued that this could mean an end to Civil Service protections at the Department. Speaking for the provision, the elusive Brian D’Arcy walked up to his one-minute public comment amid a standing ovation and cheers from his DWP workers. His message: All the things you are worried about, it just isn’t gonna happen.

This writer’s public comment also addressed the workers’ concerns. We relabeled the provision negotiated Civil Service reform, a term that was later used by Councilmember Paul Koretz. Good labor relations are based on good faith and honesty on both sides. First, based on personal participation in this process, was an assurance that we believed the good faith of every elected official in the city, none of whom intend to eliminate Civil Service like worker protections at DWP. Second was honesty. The truth is that DWP cannot effectively renew its workforce to meet its changing industry needs without changes in both the existing Civil Service rules and the restrictions that are now contained in its related labor agreements. We would go even further and grant DWP Civil Service exemptions of 10 percent of authorized positions. That is the same level as is used in Los Angeles County Civil Service. These additional exemptions would guaranty an immediate solution until the negotiated reforms happen.

Councilmember comments ranged from Mitch Englander’s strong support to a very hesitant and concerned statement about the labor provisions by Paul Koretz. Open the roll. Count the tally. 15-0 in favor. Close the roll. Council President Wesson had not only made sausage. He also negotiated support from all his colleagues. The proposed ballot measure elements now are at the City Attorney for final language. The Rules committee will vote on the final ballot language and ordinance next Friday.

The ballot measure is now probably cast in bronze. Failure to include an increased level of Civil Service exemptions is unfortunate. The exemptions would be an immediate and guarantied fix. DWP would still need the negotiated Civil Service and labor agreement changes. So imagine sitting down with Local 18 to negotiate those changes. DWP is in a weak bargaining position with its major union, it is DESPERATE for the hiring reforms, and the only thing it has to trade for them is ratepayer money. With the new exemptions, it would still be in a weak position. However, it would no longer be desperate. Thirdly, it would have something other than money to trade. “If you give me reforms X, Y, and Z, then I can probably live with fewer Civil Service exemptions, maybe 8 or even 7 percent.” The union has no incentive to grant exemptions, but it does have an incentive to reduce them if granted. Without that trade, look for really significant wage and benefit increases in the coming labor negotiations. DWP labor Reform without ballot-granted Civil Service exemptions probably breaks the assumption of the recent modest five-year rate increase.

For Neighborhood Councils, there have been some remarkable wins. First, we did get two full months to weigh in, instead of the one month originally proposed. Second, Neighborhood Councils were represented at the Rules committee meetings by three alliance leaders and by the NC DWP team. The Mayor created an advisory panel with two representatives from Neighborhood Councils. At the invitation of Council President Herb Wesson, this writer sat at the staff table at a City Council meeting. That was the first time this has ever happened for Neighborhood Councils. Our consensus opposition to a full-time management board (like the Board of Public Works) killed that proposal. Our opposition to a “professional” board of technocrats likewise succeeded. A provision for skill-specified seats on the Board got modified to a statement that individual board members each need to have “one or more” of a list of specified skills, one of which is Neighborhood Council and community organization work. Our support for an expectation that DWP commissioners would be difficult to remove succeeded.

Overall, this unique opportunity to participate in the fast-track “sausage making” that we often criticize at the City Council proved the Neighborhood Councils can step up their game, participate as active partners in advising on legislation, and be constructive and effective with their input. Congratulations all!

Guess what. DWP Reform is still a live issue that needs Neighborhood Council input. The ballot measure was only about one third of the reforms that are proposed. All of the other proposed reforms (some good and some stinkers) are going to be made through ordinance changes. Stay tuned. And name a Representative and an Alternate to attend the meetings of the DWP committees on your behalf. They are held on the first-Saturday of each month at 8:45 am at DWP headquarters, 111 North Hope Street. Everyone is welcome.

Please send your questions and comments on DWP Reform to DWP Reform information will be posted regularly at There is additional information at

Tony Wilkinson is the Chair of the Neighborhood Council – DWP MOU Oversight Committee. He will be contributing information on the DWP Reform process to the EmpowerLA newsletter each week.