Organizing Win at Hawaii Water – Contract Bargaining Set to Begin
The UWUA is proud to welcome into its ranks Hawaii Water workers, the newest bargaining unit to join the National Union. Their journey into the union in many ways was a textbook case of how the positive experience utility workers have as UWUA members can translate into bringing the benefits of a union contract to others.
Last year, the union’s California Water Utility Council (CWUC) discussed the importance of organizing and reached out to members to see if they knew of anyone who might be interested in organizing their workplace. The CWUC is made up of the six locals representing over 650 workers at California Water Service Group.
This focus on organizing bore fruit when CWUC President Aaron Gieg received a call from Shane Waliezer at Hawaii Water, which is also owned by California Water.
Shane wanted to know what it would take to organize the workers in Hawaii, located on the Big Island and Maui.
“I had been with the company for a little over a year,” he explains. “I saw problems with our safety and training, the way we were being treated, and how the company had not adopted new technologies and practices.”
He got together with some of his co-workers to see what could be done. “One of my colleagues did some research, pulled up the pay charts from a Cal Water contract and found out people doing the same jobs there were making considerably more than us, even though the cost-of-living is pretty much the same,” Shane says, adding, “We came to the conclusion that our situation could only be improved through having union representation.”
Coincidentally, one of Shane’s co-workers had recently transferred there from Cal Water, with the stipulation that he would keep everything his UWUA contract provided. He was a shop steward at Cal Water and was instrumental in organizing Hawaii Water.
After some initial conversations with Gieg and CWUC VP Rick Wilson, UWUA President Mike Langford and Executive VP Steven VanSlooten gave the go-ahead for them to work with UWUA Senior National Rep. Jami Simon to visit Waliezer and his co-workers at Hawaii Water.
The three left for Hawaii in early March and talked to workers on both the Big Island and Maui. Several meetings, numerous phone calls, and house visits later, 65% of Hawaii Water workers signed union cards. Elections were held and the National Labor Relations Board certified the results on May 31.
“Before we joined the union, we didn’t have the ability to stand up and voice legitimate concerns about safety, service and other things,” Shane says. “The union gives us the platform to do so now.”
Negotiations with the new UWUA with the new UWUA Local 808 will begin in October.