In pushing a reactionary agenda, the anti-union Daily News has put Los Angeles Water & Power workers and consumers at risk.

Help me welcome Julia Rosen to this space today. Julia writes for Working Californians, a nonprofit strategic research and advocacy group promoting quality-of-life issues for working men and women in the greater Los Angeles area and in California. She also is a proud member of the thriving California blogosphere and is a consultant to other progressive organizations and unions in the state.

We all know how the traditional media either ignores unions and their members or portrays us all in an unflattering light. In this case, Julia points out how the Los Angeles Daily News went out of its way to attack public-sector workers represented by the Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The Daily News is well known for being virulently anti-worker. Basically, the paper takes the position that everyone should be making poor wages and grateful for having a job, no matter how dangerous. The paper supports privatization and job outsourcing and routinely editorializes against workers’ rights issues.

The other week, the paper published a breathless report about the salaries of Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP) employees, publishing the name, job title and corresponding salary of all employees in a searchable online database, in tandem with an article about how much they make.

The editor went so far as to put up a note at the head of the article, urging people to read the article and “see how your pay compares with theirs.” This is a divisive attempt to try and depress the salaries of other city employees who are currently in contract negotiations with the city. The Daily News wanted to influence the bargaining process by publicly smearing the LADWP workers. (The paper has since pulled the article, but this link still includes the editor’s note.)

What they ended up doing was putting the workers—and all of us who depend on water and power systems—at risk. Typically when salary information is released for reasons of public transparency, only job titles are listed, not full names. By publishing names, the paper opened up a treasure trove of information for would-be saboteurs. Imagine how much damage someone could do by creating a fake badge, complete with real name and title to get access to our water and power system. Individuals already have attempted to do so in the past. In addition:

  • The Daily News website provides the exact number of security officers, enabling someone to ascertain the level of security staffing for DWP’s facilities.

  • Because there are generally three shifts per day, the total number of staff can be divided by three, and then that figure can be divided among its facilities to determine the level of staffing at any give time.

Such tactical information can be used to expose the potential weaknesses of security points within DWP’s facilities—and that is very scary. In the paper’s rush to bash the workers, they severely weakened our security.

Plus, many of these workers work directly with the public, often going into their homes.  Courtesy of the Daily News, they could be faced with potential taunts, harassment and harmful comments about their salaries, making the employees fearful for their own safety and well-being. The most vulnerable are employees who have filed restraining orders against abusive relatives or acquaintances, who have gone to great lengths to stay out of the public eye. 

One LADWP worker’s son was raped by a pedophile. Now his mother’s information is published online and she is frightened for their safety. Or what about workers who have been battling identity theft?  Now their information is back in the public sphere. Thousands of hard-working men and women are frightened, threatened and worried about what will happen to them.

But the workers are fighting back for their personal safety and the safety of the Los Angeles water and electric systems. The union representing the workers, IBEW Local 18 has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the Daily News. The DWP workers simply want the paper to remove the names of the workers from the database. There will be a hearing Nov. 1 in the California Superior Court. The workers are arguing there are no public disclosure reasons to have the names published. The workers’ privacy and public security concerns are much more important. (In fact, when an LADWP worker called the editor to complain, the editor purportedly said: “I’m not after you, I am after [IBEW President] Brian D’Arcy.”)

Publishing this data with their names obviously was politically motivated by a paper with an axe to grind. The editor wrote the article intending to create a race to the bottom, where workers should compete to earn the least. The Daily News did not take the time to examine the reasons why LADWP workers earn salaries higher than the average Los Angeles municipal worker. For years, the LADWP has under-hired workers. There are hundreds of jobs that go unfilled. The end result is an experienced and aging workforce that therefore gets paid more than the average city employee. In fact, 40 percent of the workforce is near retirement age. And many of these workers, particularly those who spend their days near electrical lines, work in extremely dangerous conditions.

The LADWP also wants to hire another 768 workers to upgrade the power system, and it must compete for those workers against private utilities that can pay even more for skilled workers.

Brian D’Arcy, business manager of IBEW Local 18 that represents 8,080 LADWP workers, defended the pay scale and said LADWP workers’ jobs are unlike any others.

“It’s a much more industrial environment, much tougher work, more complicated and more skill that’s involved. There’s not a lot of room for error over here,” D’Arcy said. “Even among the clerical workers, the predominant clerical is customer service representatives.

“I wouldn’t want to do their jobs, take complaints.”

Not many people would for bad pay. That is what the Daily News is arguing for, only they went too far this time.

It was heartening to see comments coming into the Daily News website, pushing back against the paper for attacking workers. One comment, from nuttingcowboy, puts it this way:

For those of you who’ve never been close enough to live wires to hear them hum, or worked 40 to 100 feet off the ground, let me give you a few clues. Electricity over 6,000 volts can jump up to an inch per 1,000 volts in dry air. The little lines at the top of the pole can carry up to 120,000 volts, the ones that feed the transformers carry 12,000 and your street lights run on between 6,000 and 7,600 volts. It takes less power to light a 25 watt light bulb than it does to kill a healthy person. Lineman expose themselves to hazards daily that would make any of the whiners in here wet themselves (greatly increasing their exposure to shock).

They work higher and deeper than most folks would go and you almost never know they’re there. Now I’m no fan of the top heavy politically-driven management of the DWP that’s been using utility rates to circumvent Prop 13 for a generation; but before you whine about the IBEW workers making $100,000 a year (with overtime), climb that pole in the rain to restore service while the power’s still on after you’ve already put in 11 hours that day. Or visit a friend in the hospital as they recover from the internal burns caused by electrocution; then you can complain about what hard working service people earn. Until then; when you turn on that light, you might thank an electrician.

Indeed.

This is yet one more example of an editorial agenda creeping into the Daily News. The editor’s note at the top of the article borders on being unethical. There should be a clear line between the news and the opinion page. Not only that, but by placing that note, the editor revealed that his real motivations are political, not in the public interest. That is something the lawsuit addresses to make their case that there is no intent for public disclosure, but rather a broad-based attack on the workers.

The Daily News has been asking their readers to chime in with comments about the lawsuit. You can give them a piece of your mind here.