When Columbia Gas took responsibility for the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosions in Massachusetts, killing one person, injuring dozens of others and destroying or damaging hundreds of structures, it was ordered to pay a $53 million federal fine, a state penalty of $56 million, and lost its permission to operate in the state.
Forced to sell its assets, Eversource bought Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion. As a result of the acquisition, UWUA Local 273, which represented Columbia Gas workers, voted to merge with Local 369 and join their Eversource bargaining unit.
“This was a big win for Local 273 members, Local 369, as well as Eversource,” says 369 President Craig A. Pinkham. “We were able to add the 250-plus members of Local 273 into our existing collective bargaining agreement where they all received pay increases, better active health care and richer retiree benefits,” he explains. “Utility Workers who were hired after 2013 at Columbia Gas had no pensions or retiree healthcare. Now they do. It was a win-win-win.”
Pictured above – Local 369 is holding membership meetings in-person, outdoors, under a tent with masks required and social distancing enforced. There has been an uptick in attendance at the quarterly meetings.
Local 369’s growth brings power
On August 12, Local 369 members unanimously approved the merger agreement with Local 273 and on August 31 voted to change their by-laws to provide two new seats on the executive board for representatives of the merged local.
Having worked for Columbia Gas, which is not known as a good employer, and with first-hand experience of the 2018 gas explosion, Local 273 members are a welcome addition to the Local 369 membership.
“Local 273 has been very successful at the bargaining table,” said 273 President Scot Hunter. “To be successful, we had to fight for everything. With this merger, we have increased Local 369’s gas members to become the largest gas and electric union for all of Eversource,” he continued. “This merger will secure continued success for our over 2,000 Eversource members at the bargaining table.” Hunter will become an executive board member/vice president of the merged local.
Rewards of unselfish leadership
Eversource’s Asset Purchase Agreement is scheduled to become official on October 1. Once Columbia Gas employees are employed by Eversource, the merger of the two locals will be official. “It took experienced, unselfish leadership to merge these locals,” said Pinkham. “We look forward to rewarding our members by negotiating the best utility contracts in the country.”
Eversource and Local 369’s current collective bargaining agreement expires on June 2, 2021. The UWUA will represent the highest number of employees in their three-state utility workforce.