As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our Utility Workers Union of America, I am both honored and privileged, as your National Secretary Treasurer, to assist in providing historical data for these anniversary editions of The Utility Worker.
Our 2021 second quarter magazine titled “Making History, Moving Forward” covered the years 1933-1955. It identified many organizational dates, including the original charter dates for our National Union as well as some of our local unions. In this current edition, we highlight events and/or milestones in our history from 1956 to 2003, including the 1979 inception of the National COPE Fund and the establishment of the Utility Workers Health and Welfare Fund in 2003.
Witness to history
This history project has brought back many memories for me that I want to share with you. In 2002-2003, thousands of union members from several gas locals that were members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) made the choice to change affiliation to the UWUA: Locals 69-1, 69-2, 80, 686, 18007, and my home Local 555. I am proud to have been Local 555’s
representative/observer to physically witness this historic vote. Joining the UWUA was a no-brainer for my local. The UWUA knew our struggles and shared our concerns about working conditions, utility legislation and, at that time, deregulation, as well as having the resources to help our struggles.
Why is this significant? May, 2003 was the inception of the UWUA’s Health and Welfare Fund (H&W Fund), which was created to provide health and related benefits to employees of various employers and affiliated locals.
Move forward to 2006, UWUA Local G555 was in one of the hardest and longest contract negotiations in our history. Dominion was the new employer and looking to impose their will on our membership with drastic proposals to shift medical coverage and cost from the employer to our members. Were we going to strike for the first time in over 25 years? As local leaders, we reached out to the UWUA National Officers for assistance. We strategized, shared ideas and found a way to utilize the UWUA Health and Welfare Fund as a vehicle to cover these new out-of-pocket medical expenses.
A successful settlement was reached when Dominion agreed to contribute approximately $4 million to the UWUA H&W Fund, to establish a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA), for active and retired members. To this day, in each subsequent contract, Local G555 has negotiated additional funding.
Over 18 years, the UWUA H&W Fund has been utilized by numerous other local unions. With assets of over $150 million it currently serves more than 8,200 participants.
From generation to generation
What is the message? The success of our organization is not about any one individual or moment in time. It took many different labor leaders to strategize and agree to merge all those SEIU locals into the UWUA. It took solid communication with the membership for those overwhelming votes of support. It took several different administrations at both the national level and local level to formulate ideas to combat the mounting medical coverage costs we were faced with at the bargaining table. Ideas that were initiated 20 years ago are still in effect and helping our membership today. It took collective bargaining over several generations and administrations.
It is now our job to mentor the current and new labor leaders to continue to build upon this foundation while exploring new ideas and opportunities. New challenges face us today.COVID-19 presents many new issues related to working conditions, from safe PPE to remote worksites.
The wildfires on the west coast have been raging since 2016. Our brothers and sisters in Region 5 have unprecedented work related issues, from new job assignments and work/life balance considerations, to having quality air to breathe. It will take all of us fighting and adapting collectively to ensure safe working conditions for the next 75 years and beyond. Together, collectively, we will protect our legacy while building our future!