What a challenging year 2020 has been for all of us. COVID-19 has tested our resolve, our creativity, and our adaptability. We had to rethink contract negotiation procedures; adapt to new technology and virtual meetings, and most importantly ensure the safety of our members.
Our organization and, more importantly, our members have been tested and have stood up to the task. We are first responders and we are resilient.
During this COVID crisis many city leaders and governmental organizations across the country labeled utility workers as “essential employees.” We already knew this fact. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) became a well known term for the first time in many households. We already live with this terminology. In many communities utility workers received first responder recognition. We already knew this reality and we will continue to fight for first responder status in every state — not just during a pandemic.
We want to thank our local leadership and national representatives who really stepped up in negotiating safe working conditions and ensuring that our members had the required PPE to safely perform their jobs. Our utility workers take customer service to heart and did what was necessary to ensure that our customers had service, often times wearing what looked like HAZMAT suits for their safety — that’s dedication and commitment.
Contract negotiations took on a whole new look given the circumstances and the new social distancing requirements. Each and every level of leadership in the UWUA had to do things a bit differently during this new normal. We have many members in new leadership roles and our locals, working with national leadership and national representatives, really stepped up to the plate in securing solid contracts.
The first priority, again, was negotiating and ensuring the safe work environment of our membership. Many locals successfully secured new work rules and safety measures for our members working under these new COVID conditions. Where possible, to limit exposure and safeguard collective bargaining agreements, the UWUA negotiated with employers for contract extensions that include wage enhancements. Where necessary, in-person meetings were held to maintain fair and decent contracts at the bargaining table. Despite all the obstacles of 2020, the UWUA has negotiated fair wage increases for our membership and improved safety rules.
National administration has also been quite challenging with social distancing, staffing rotations, safe travel concerns, and very limited personal interaction. All National Union business has been properly executed. While most 2020 in-person meetings were cancelled, executive board and UWUA Health and Welfare Fund meetings were completed and held via video conference. We cancelled all 2020 regional education conferences and in-person training events and renegotiated each of those event contracts with no penalties. This was no easy task as every organization was trying to salvage contracts at the same time and in the best interest of their respective organizations. We will be communicating future conferences and training opportunities once we have more certainty around this pandemic.
The National leadership has maintained strong interpersonal communication with our local financial officers. We helped locals with employer payroll and dues issues, as well as assisting, where necessary, to ensure appropriate filing of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) forms and Department of Labor (DOL) filings and compliance. Brothers and sisters, during this pandemic many members were working remotely and, at times, working from wherever you could get an internet signal to get the job done!
In closing, brothers and sisters, please take the opportunity to enjoy your family and loved ones throughout this holiday season. Let’s leave 2020 in the rear view mirror and look forward to a healthy, happy 2021.