Cover Story – Water for Life

Members Crucial to Nation’s Health and Well-Being

Utility workers in the water and wastewater industries are responsible for delivering safe drinking water and treating wastewater, and are crucial to the health and well-being of the communities they serve. Without them, the nation could not function.

Water is essential for life. Yet the grade given by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for the condition of the nation’s drinking and wastewater infrastructure is a near failing “D.”

As front line workers in this most important industry, no one knows the crisis in drinking water and sanitation better than the more than 5,000 UWUA water members in 80 locals who do the work day in and day out, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Needed: infrastructure investment

Though the quality of the nation’s drinking water remains high, and the outbreak of illness caused by bad drinking water is very rare, the still unresolved disaster in Flint, MI, was a wake up call for many.

There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the U.S. It would cost more than $1 trillion to replace every pipe, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).

On the wastewater side, although sewage treatment facilities are widespread, aging pipes and capacity shortfalls result in the discharge of an estimated 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage a year. 

To put that number in perspective, that’s as if every day, more than one year’s worth of Pittsburgh, PA’s raw sewage were left untreated and flowing into our nation’s rivers and waterways.

“Because this infrastructure is unseen, it goes unnoticed,” says Pittsburgh Local 433 President Joe Swenglish. “Everything has a lifespan, it’s time to start replacing and rebuilding this critical infrastructure.” Local 433 members safely treat the city’s sewage as employees of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority.

President Donald Trump, with support from Congress, the industry, and labor, is promoting infrastructure investment to rebuild America and create good jobs. Even so, of the 50 infrastructure projects Trump’s team has listed, only one is in wastewater, and two in drinking water.

More clearly needs to be done. 

A union with solutions

As a union with solutions, the UWUA focuses on making a reality the words of its founders as written in the preamble to the UWUA Constitution:

“The Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO is an organization of members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and by an understanding of the necessity and value of the services we provide to the public for their health and well-being.”

Under the slogan of “Reclaim, Retrain, Repair, Repower America,” the UWUA is taking on the challenge of confronting the water and wastewater crisis. Through collective bargaining, organizing, and training with its Power for America Training Trust Fund, the union is at the forefront of the fight to ensure clean drinking water and the safe treatment of wastewater for every American.