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Bonuses given to GWP managers

City says incentives are a reward for after-hours work unmet by IBEW employees.

August 31, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Seven Glendale Water & Power managers received combined bonuses of about $44,000 for responding to dozens of after-hours emergencies when members of the Glendale Water & Power union wouldn’t work on the repairs, a city executive said this week.

The bonuses mark the first time the city has given such incentives since 2008, said John Takhtalian, deputy city manager and acting chief of Glendale Water & Power.

“This is a one-time reward,” Takhtalian said, noting that it was to reward those managers who went “above and beyond.”

But Martin Marrufo, spokesman for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, the Glendale Water & Power union that has been butting heads with city officials for more than two years, denied that union employees didn’t show up for work when they were called after hours.

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Rather, he said, it was the city that hasn’t been calling IBEW employees to come to work on emergencies.

“They’re trying to explain away why they’re giving their managers bonuses,” Marrufo said.

A handful of city records from August 2012 to May 2013 obtained by the Glendale News-Press show that line mechanics, power-line truck operators and other workers were called for after-hours work, but they either did not pick up or the call went to voicemail. All those that were called were no-shows, Takhtalian said. 

The names and phone numbers of the employees were removed from the documents, but titles remained.

The rewarded managers responded to 35 electrical emergencies so far this summer, he said.

The bonuses were “not intended to villainize any member of IBEW or IBEW itself,” Takhtalian said, adding that the behind-the-scenes drama should not impact customers’ quality of life. 

Tensions between the city and the union spiked this summer as the two sides fought over a contract. The City Council declared an impasse and cut pay for IBEW members by 1.75% on May 7.

On May 31, the city gave seven Glendale Water & Power managers raises worth 5% of their salaries. The raises ranged from $5,709.60 to $6,743.30 each, according to city records.

IBEW workers stopped volunteering to work on a standby basis for scheduled overtime around May 2012, but even if they didn’t sign up, they could still be called if needed for an emergency, Takhtalian said. When officials made those so-called “call backs,” the workers did not respond, he said.

After multiple no-shows, the city stopped calling IBEW workers and solely contacted managers to do emergency repairs, Takhtalian said. 

Roughly four months later, IBEW workers began responding to call backs, but just before this summer, as the city and union continued to hash out a contract, workers once again stopped signing up for standby work and responding to call backs, Takhtalian said. 

Takhtalian said the work slowdown is ongoing, but Marrufo said there have never been and are no so-called union “job actions.”

“To my knowledge, they responded,” when they were called, Marrufo said.

The bonuses came despite difficult financial times for the utility, which has been operating on thin margins and was forecasted to become insolvent if the City Council didn’t ratchet up electricity rates. In July, the council voted to increase rates by roughly 29% for residential customers and 26% for commercial customers when compounded over five years.

As the council discussed the rate jump, City Manager Scott Ochoa highlighted cutbacks City Hall made during the protracted recession, noting that most employees have not received cost-of-living increases due to financial constraints. He did not mention the bonuses, though.

Councilman Ara Najarian said he supported the bonuses because the managers kept the lights on for customers.

“They did not ask for these bonuses,” Najarian said.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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