Los Angeles is one of the strongest union towns in the nation. Here, the city council is sympathetic to union causes. Unions have been successful in maintaining and expanding their membership at city-owned facilities, such as the port, the airport, and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. Personally, I support a strong unionized sector of the economy to balance the power of corporations, both in the board room and the halls of government. I\u2019m a former union member myself, once carrying a Newspaper Guild card. However, times are changing. Union membership, except in the public sector, has fallen to its lowest level since the formation of unions, as organized labor has come under attack and been undermined in many sectors by the global economy. \tSome would say the plight of unions today stems from greed, both by businesses and unions. This has led me to think about how to get beyond arguments dominated by greed. The latest example of concern about greed in Los Angeles revolves around LADWP\u2019s biggest union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18. It\u2019s suffering another round of negative publicity as headlines rage about unlimited sick time for its members, disproportionately high pay compared to other city workers, and pension benefits purportedly so generous they threaten to bankrupt America\u2019s second largest city. In the recent mayoral election, Local 18 backed Wendy Greuel, who lost to Eric Garcetti. He promised to hold the line on compensation for city workers in order to reduce fiscal pressure on the city, which has taken a step or two back from ruinous deficits in the face of mild economic recovery. Now, what the Los Angeles Times is billing as \u201can early test\u201d for the new mayor the negotiations underway to renew Local 18\u2019s contract with the muni by 2014. According to the paper last month, based on a leaked memo describing a proposal the union is reportedly buying into, Local 18 is offering to forego a 2-4 percent raise due this coming October. It\u2019s also not objecting to new unionized hires contributing 3 percent of their pay toward their pension and health benefits, as opposed to 0 percent for existing employees. In exchange, Local 18 members would get a 4 percent raise in 2016, presumably when the economy has further improved. Garcetti, according to the article, wants a tougher contract. How it plays out will be important to ratepayers. However, it\u2019s but a sideshow to the bigger money questions about how Los Angeles makes, distributes, and uses power in the future and what role the union should play or not play in that decision making process. \tLabor costs amount to 24 percent of LADWP\u2019s $3.1 billion power operations budget, while fuel and power purchases make up 41 percent. Debt, interest and expenses for infrastructure development and facility maintenance make up another 23 percent. Arguably, how the department chooses to spend this money, totaling about two-thirds of its power operations expenditures, may make a bigger impact on the long-term cost of power and labor than whatever it does in the current round of contract negotiations. Local 18 knows this. It\u2019s why it\u2019s leader Brian D\u2019Arcy is carping about the muni\u2019s feed-in tariff program, calling it a program that will allow \u201cbig businesses\u201d to \u201cgouge the ratepayers.\u201d D\u2019Arcy has a point. At 17 cents\/kWh it\u2019s more expensive than central utility scale power at 8 cents\/kWh, according to the muni ratepayer advocate Fred Pickel, although 8 cents may be a lowball estimate. But true as they may be, predictable arguments couched in the language of class warfare\u2014greedy businesses and unions pointing the finger at each other as they purportedly fight over who can bilk the ratepayer the most\u2014while easy to understand, don\u2019t point the way toward solving our energy and environmental, much less our economic problems. These arguments remain locked in a zero-sum game, creating a cacophony of noise that speaks less and less to the concerns of the broad majority. That\u2019s why Garcetti, as he analyzes both the issues in the contract negotiations and the issues involved in meeting his goal of installing 1,200 MW of distributed solar and enhancing energy efficiency must look beyond direct costs to the bigger picture. Namely, how decisions about power will impact economic development and employment opportunities in a city dogged by poverty and unemployment. The union likes to brag about its training program, which has resulted in a handful of hires at the department. At the same time, it dodges the issue of how the current centralized utility model stymies potentially game changing technologies, not only solar, but also smart, energy efficient technologies. Garcetti can address this by gradually steering more of the department\u2019s expenditures into distributed solar, smart grid projects, and energy efficiency retrofits, increasingly installed, maintained, and owned by entities other than LADWP, whether small and medium-sized businesses, schools, cooperative businesses, homeowner associations, etc. Enhancing local ownership of such resources will mean sending less money out-of-state for coal, natural gas, and nuclear fuel. It will mean more spent here, creating new economic opportunities for workers and businesses alike in Los Angeles. That\u2019s why Garcetti needs to stand firm as the IBEW seeks to undermine the feed-in tariff in favor of centralized systems connected to big transmission lines. To move beyond \u201cbig business\u201d versus \u201cbig union\u201d arguments driven by greed, a new dialog is needed. Garcetti has the chance to start the argument here by focusing on creating a distributed, smart, and highly efficient energy system that maximizes economic development opportunities. Otherwise, he stands to sink in the mire of arguments about small changes in compensation for a small group that\u2019s amply paid.