More than 1,200 UWUA members working for American Electric Power in Ohio and West Virginia recently won a three-year agreement that includes significant improvements and raises the bar for future negotiations. Up until this round of bargaining, the company always came to the negotiating table at the end of each contract with a “best and final” offer that included an annual wage reopener. No more!
The new agreement will bring wages more in line with the industry when it expires in 2018. But the biggest victory was, “Getting better contract language to prepare us for the future,” says Steve Veigel, president, Local 116. He explains, “What changed this year was all the AEP locals said ‘no more!’ The company stepped over the line and we all got together. Then we got the National Union involved. Now, the AEP Joint Council of seven locals is working together as one.”
The result, 1,200 UWUA members strong telling the company, “No, I don’t think so.” That’s when the company realized that it was not going to be business as usual. Improvements include:
- First time ever, a three-year deal with 2.5%, 2.5%, and 3% raises
- Equity adjustments of up to 12% over the three years for most covered jobs
- Increased moving and travel expense payments
- Improved meal allowance and miscellaneous expense reimbursements
- Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on safety improvements, including accident investigation, and union safety reps in various locations.
- The improvements made to lodging, meals, and miscellaneous expenses are an indication of the new relationship the UWUA AEP Joint Council now has
- with the company.
Veigel explains, “We were stuck at $91 per day. We got them to bump it up to $150 daily. They would never even talk to us about this before. The fact that we were able to change these things is significant.”
In addition, union negotiators were able to merge locals that were working under separate contracts, something the company fought against for years. Now UWUA members will have more opportunity for job advancement. For example, before the new agreement, meter readers would top out at $18 – $20 an hour and were never able to bid on other jobs. Now they can bid across job classifications.
And, while AEP spends a lot of money on safety, decisions were being made without input from workers. The new contract includes language that will give union members the power to elect safety reps who will participate in the decision-making process with management.
The solidarity exhibited by the seven AEP locals is forcing a positive change in the company’s relationship with the union and its members. This could not come at a more important time as the Clean Power Plan goes into effect.