LA Water and Power Worker Files Suit in Connection with Slush Fund Set Up by Utility, Union

LA Water and Power Worker Files Suit in Connection with Slush Fund Set Up by Utility, Union
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LA Water and Power Worker Files Suit in Connection with Slush Fund Set Up by Utility, Union

(LOS ANGELES) — Nearly a decade ago, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 18 and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) were caught red-handed in a high-profile swindle that diverted $4 million a year from the utility’s ratepayers into a pair of nonprofits whose stated purpose was “improving relations with the utility’s largest employee union” — namely IBEW.

A lawsuit filed by the Freedom Foundation on Sept. 17 on behalf of a current DWP employee contends the scam continues to this day. The only difference is that, instead of bilking the ratepayers, the burden of sustaining the union slush fund has been shifted to IBEW 18’s members.

The slush fund, like many other dubious union activities, is used to support labor bosses’ preferred political speech.

Unsurprisingly, it was the influence of union money, often taken from public employees without consent, that turned the tide of the recent efforts to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.

So much for the will of the people.

The plaintiff, Christopher Deering, started working for the utility as a customer service specialist in 2005, when public employees were required to either join the labor union and pay regular dues, or decline full membership but still be required to pay the union a so-called “agency fee.”

Deering chose full membership, but the authorization card he signed specifically allowed him to end his dues deductions at any time without restriction.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, affirmed the right of public employees to decline union participation altogether — no membership or dues, and no agency fees, either.

But when Deering requested to resign his membership in August 2020, the city of Los Angeles refused to stop the dues deductions for another eight months, unconstitutionally and forcibly collecting a total of $778.50.

In addition, however, he discovered $15 every month was being deducted to fund the “Joint Safety Institute” and the “Joint Training Institute” — neither of which Deering had ever heard of.

To his dismay, they were the same two nonprofits that had raked off more than $40 million from DWP’s ratepayers from 2002 until 2013, when the arrangement was uncovered by an investigative reporter from the Los Angeles Times.

A 2015 audit revealed those working for the two institutes performed few, if any, services in return for salaries that averaged more than $100,000 a year — 50 percent more than other LA city employees.

Separate federal tax records offer only summaries of the organizations’ outlays, including more than $360,000 spent on travel from 2009 to 2011.

With their feet to the fire, DWP and IBEW shifted tactics by combining the trusts into one new entity, the “Joint Safety and Training Institute” (JSTI) and began sending DWP employees the bill instead of ratepayers.

But the shady activities have continued unabated.

According to Deering’s lawsuit, “The Department and IBEW 18 have a general pattern and practice of taking employees’ lawfully earned wages without their affirmative consent for use in political speech.”

It continues, “(b)ecause it authorizes the confiscation of Deering’s lawfully earned wages without his affirmative consent, the defendants’ deduction schemes, for both purported dues and monies for JSTI … continue to violate Deering’s First Amendment right against compelled speech.”

The Freedom Foundation is a national organization that has battled unions all over the country to help public-sector employees exercise their right to keep their job while paying nothing to labor unions whose ideals and actions they do not support.

“In most respects,” noted Freedom Foundation Litigation Counsel Timothy R. Snowball, “this case is similar to many others we’ve handled in that it involves a union continuing to confiscate a worker’s wages in defiance of the First Amendment and the Janus ruling.”

Snowball concluded, “But there’s also the component of a union and government entity working together to invent a whole new way to take employees’ lawfully earned wages for use in radical politics without their consent through a slush fund. And if there is one thing we have learned since Janus, it’s that unions will go to almost any length to avoid the U.S. Constitution.”