The DWP Deal Is Mostly Sleight of Hand

MAILANDER’S LA - We encounter early in the voluminous Memoirs of Casanova the fabled libertine's rationale for maintaining a dishonest servant. 

"You can always anticipate dishonesty, but you can never anticipate stupidity," the lusting Count noted for posterity.

It was likely this overriding reason rather than any other that I and 220,000 others marked the circle for Eric Garcetti rather than Wendy Greuel last May 21.  We who watch the City doing its best at attempting to shrink to greatness at least could own the fact that a Mayor Garcetti might be sneaky, but not thick. 


But one thing we didn't calculate was that the Los Angeles Times and other local media outlets would become so willing to look the other way while the Garcetti administration whipped up so much ado about nothing that it would have even made even louche Casanova blush. 

Soon, I'm sure, the public will catch up to Garcetti and local media's fawning over the recently re-opened and quickly re-shut DWP contract.  One Council aide grumbled to me that it was the most "intellectually dishonest" exercise he'd seen as a City staffer to-date.  The public may even wonder why the Mayor called a press conference, with twelve obliging Councilmembers at his side, to announce a deal that the rank and file of the DWP's International Brotherhood of Workers Local Number 18 had not ratified yet. 

Of course, pairing "intellectual" with "dishonest" seems only refreshing when compared to the ongoings of the Villaraigosa years, which were dishonest in many other ways too.

But to understand what Garcetti, Rick Jacobs and Ana Guerrero really hoped to achieve in the present DWP tempest in a teapot, you need to do a little math--a topic famously fumbled by media types.

At first, the Garcetti team was waiving loose figures around trying to demonstrate how much the deal might save over upcoming years and decades.  But it doesn't even take half a decade for a labor contract to expire, and even the swimsuit models among us were catching up to that one. 

Finally, the Mayor's office contended that a new deal locking into two percent a year raises after three years would save the City's ratepayers $10 million after four.  And they settled on some plug numbers that they couldn't even bear to announce to their fawning social media peeps.

Team Garcetti's math-challenged scrubs failed to add two plus two in the new deal to compare it to the old one. 

The new agreement, for instance, supersedes an earlier agreement that would have called for a 4% raise after four years.  That meant that under the abandoned agreement, for the average DWP worker making $100,000 a year--and that is just a little below average for a DWP worker--the payout would be $100,000 for the first three years and $104,000 for the final year, totaling $404,000 over four years. 

But watch what happens with the new contract. 

The average DWP worker makes $100,000 for the first two years.  Then, with a prospective 2% hike, she makes up to $102,000 the third year.  And then she can go up to 2% of that, or $104,040, the fourth year. 

Total payout: $406,040 over four years.  Yes, she actually stands a good chance to make more money than under the stipulations of the contract Garcetti tore up to get this new "deal." 

That didn't look too good.  So the media cheat sheet, prepared by The Segal Company, a longstanding national human resources consulting firm, mostly documented how slight the changes are and what degree of wishful thinking is standing in the place of tangible savings.

For instance, the bulk of the "savings" the cheat sheet cited over the next four years--$385 imaginary million of $415 imaginary million--comes from a category called "Defer COLA [cost of living adjustment] from 10/1/13 to 10/1/16."

The now scuttled previous agreement would have not only called a raise a raise but also deferred any raise for even longer.  But that's something that the contract the Garcetti folks walked away from did far better than this present contract.

So the cheat sheet doesn't talk at all about the agreement that Council tried to hand Garcetti but that Garcetti walked away from.  Rather, the cheat sheet needed to pad the savings in such a way that it also helps journalists forget the recent past more readily.  So it only talked about the new agreement as it compares to the existing expiring contract. 

So there's really nothing going on here--nothing at all--except for Garcetti moving a few columns around, and thereby trying to maintain his tenuous connection to the City's most easily duped: the pitchfork people, the bluehairs who voted for Kevin James in the primary and then swung over to Garcetti in near unanimous numbers, especially when they saw the likes of Bill Clinton, Magic Johnson and, yes, the DWP itself, endorsing Wendy Greuel in the spring of this year. 

These people aren't much adept at doing math either--they are also the Nigerian email fraudster's target of choice.  But the supreme irony in this case is that they are presently being pandered to with crooked numbers by some math-challenged LA media as well. 

"All the Mayor got to do was to make this public," was the way one operative close to the DWP put it.  

"This was last week's deal--last week and a half have been like a hamster spinning a wheel for the public.  A lot of energy to go nowhere." 

We'll see that soon enough.  If these were real savings, the Mayor would have told you the precise points of the deal at his press conference, wouldn't he?


(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)





Vol 11 Issue 68

Pub: Aug 23, 2013