The Shame of the Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power

We are witnessing an all out attack on the American worker by both business leaders as well as our reputed political representatives. The prize which they focus on to the complete detriment of all that was once good about America? More profits! Notice I didn't just say "profits". With the exploding economy in this nation, true profit is nearly a given. No, what the enemies of the American Dream are waging this war over is "more profits".

The weapons that are being brought to bear against us range from increasing the overall taxes of the middle and lower classes while easing the "burden" for Corporate America, to the simple act of forcing the employees of the various companies to pay for the stupid and ill- advised decisions of corporate and government leaders. The language of this war is little different from the language that the pentagon would prefer the media uses whenever the nation finds someone to wage a shooting war against.

In business we now have such misleading terms as "down-sizing" and "right-sizing" and "resource redistribution" to keep us from saying "firing large groups of loyal employees in order to temporarily increase the value of the company's stock". The military likes "soft targets" or "collateral damage" to hide the actual meanings of "innocent women and children killed by accident or because they happened to be near a target and, of course, winning the war is all that we want to be important". The reality, of course, is that they all basically mean the same thing and that is "when in doubt as to your ability to do the job correctly, attack the least protected groups and pretend that this action somehow indicates progress".

For those who care enough to be watching, we are currently witnessing the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, as well as the Los Angeles City Council, go through exactly these same procedures as they prepare for the completely unnecessary era of utility deregulation.

Now, I'm aware that the majority of So. Californians seem to have a general hatred for anything that has to do with the DWP. This hatred, as is usual in 1997 America, is far less the product of any working knowledge of the DWP's functions or shortcomings and far more the result of the right's unceasing attacks on any group being paid a fair salary with decent benefits. One ability I will happily endow the right and corporate leaders with is the ability to lay-off massive numbers of their employees, then pointing their fingers at those still employed and blaming the newly unemployed's woes on the still employed. That way, the stupidity and greed of the corporations are not the problem, rather it is always those few who haven't, as yet, been "right-sized".

What we have now is a city council, a board of supervisors and past and present DWP executives who have made ridiculously expensive mistakes over and over but simply will not accept their share of the responsibility. Instead, it is those that they hired to do the actual work who must be to blame for the department's financial woes. Therefore, if we just get rid of enough of these evil workers, then all of the past mistakes that the leaders made can be ignored, for the moment, or at least until it's time to make some more ill-advised decisions.

I accept, without question, that the DWP is far too large for the deregulated markets forced on America by Wall Street. I have but two very serious concerns about the manner in which this "restructuring" is being conducted.

One, even David Freeman cannot name the exact positions which need to be cut. Instead, he pulled the number 2,000 out of a financial hat and gave the city's civil service division the unglamorous job of detailing which people will soon be without a job. That seems far too arbitrary and not even close to a detailed plan for the future of Los Angeles and its municipal utility.

Secondly, the process of simply removing these people without even an acknowledgment that their jobs are gone because of the bad choices made by their leaders, both within the department and in government, is wrong. A small severance package, along with jobs elsewhere within the city or focused, prolonged and professional assistance in job searches for the rest is the least that these employees deserve.

I am fully prepared for the deluge of mail demanding that these employees be treated just as badly as the writer's past employer treated them. The attitude that every person must be handled as poorly as the worst has become the American worker's sorry attitude. In no way will I turn away from my belief, though, that when the only motive for lay-offs is the level of profits desired, then the workers who pay the price for the failures of their leaders must be given every possible form of assistance as they leave. Anything else is simply mean spirited and, yes I dare say it, anti-American.

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Copyright 11/5/97