Shortly after lawyers for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employees' union filed a lawsuit to delay release of their members' names and current salaries, both mayoral candidates called on the agency to make the information public as soon as possible.
The candidates — City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti — also began blaming each other for DWP employee pay that averaged $99,381 in 2011, according to the most recent publicly available data. That was more than 50% higher than the average pay for other city workers, and about 25% higher than employees at comparable public and private utilities, records show.
The Times reported Thursday that an analysis of 2-year-old payroll data for more than 10,000 employees showed General Manager Ron Nichols made $347,000. His five executive assistants averaged $198,000. Mechanics who install and repair power lines averaged $153,000. Service representatives who answer customer calls averaged $68,000.
The Times is seeking more current and detailed payroll data that would show how much DWP employees were paid last year, and how their pay has changed over the last five years.
City employee pay has emerged as a key campaign issue in the run-up to the May 21 election, partly because most city labor groups have thrown their endorsements and financial support behind a single candidate: Greuel.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents the vast majority of employees at the DWP, has given $1.45 million to an independent effort to elect Greuel. The union is by far the largest single source of cash in the race.
At a news conference Thursday, Garcetti said the high pay of DWP employees "illustrates what's at stake in this election: a mayor in the pocket of the DWP union or a mayor who is committed to representing all of Los Angeles — ratepayers, taxpayers and residents alike."
Greuel said the DWP employee pay records should be released to the public as quickly as possible, and then she highlighted her opponent's role in approving DWP pay hikes.
"Despite his attempt to point fingers at others, Eric Garcetti is responsible for the DWP's lofty salaries, huge raises and bloated pensions," her campaign said in a statement. "As City Council president, Eric Garcetti negotiated and voted for [the DWP] contract."
Garcetti and Greuel both voted in favor of large raises for DWP employees in 2005 when they served together on the council. Garcetti voted for raises again in 2009. Greuel was city controller by then and did not have a vote.
"I think we've all owned that," Garcetti said of the raises. He said if he'd known then what he knows now about the looming recession, he would not have voted for the pay hikes.
Garcetti voted to raise electricity rates last fall, shortly after a consultant hired by the City Council said reducing employee salaries, pensions and health benefits was essential to controlling costs at the department. A Garcetti spokesman said asking for pay cuts then would have been pointless because the labor contract runs through 2014. "The membership would have just laughed at us," Jeff Millman said.
The new mayor will begin negotiating a new contract with the DWP union and other city labor groups next year.
Public employee payroll information is routinely released by government agencies across California, including the city of Los Angeles. In February, The Times requested updated data. The DWP union on Wednesday sued the agency's governing board to stop a planned release of the data in the coming days.
In March, DWP officials asked employees whether they objected to their information being released, the lawsuit says. In limited cases, courts have allowed the withholding of identities of undercover police officers and employees with restraining orders against violent stalkers.
About 800 employees asked that their names, titles and earnings be kept confidential. The department determined that more than 100 of those requests included reasons, according to the lawsuit.
The employees who offered reasons were told they needed to provide by May 1 "written evidence or documentation" supporting their requests, the lawsuit says. It's not clear how many employees provided documentation.
It also wasn't clear Thursday why the department has not released information for thousands of other employees.
"The city attorney's position is that the requested information, with the exception of any protected names/information, should be released immediately by DWP," said William Carter, chief deputy in the city attorney's office. He noted that there is so far no court order preventing the release.
A letter to The Times from DWP spokesman Joseph Ramallo said the department continues to receive employee requests for anonymity and has completed only a "preliminary review of requests already received".
Ramallo has said he made $218,000 in 2011. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is paid $172,200.
Times staff writers David Zahniser and David Lauter contributed to this report.