One year after voting for UWUA representation, customer service workers at Elizabethtown Gas unanimously agreed to ratify their first UWUA contract. The 60 members work in the company’s call, payment and billing centers and are members of Local 601 in northern New Jersey. UWUA Local 424 represents Elizabethtown’s field gas workers.
The four-year agreement went into effect October 3 and includes substantial wage increases, a grievance and discipline process, sick time, and defined job structures and promotion tracks. “All of these issues were ranked as top priorities in the contract survey we did at the beginning of the process,” said Matthew Loda, who served on the negotiating committee with his coworkers Massiel Marmalejos and Jorge Vallejo; Local 601 President Noel Christmas; and UWUA staff Valerie King and Bob Houser.
The contract includes neutrality in organizing language, ensuring that any non-union Elizabethtown Gas workers, such as those working in dispatch, now have the freedom to pursue union representation without the company waging an opposition campaign.
The agreement raises minimum wage rates for all titles bringing the 60 new members’ pay in alignment with industry and company standards. With ratification, hourly pay rose between 5% and 24%, depending on the title. “It was eye-opening to see how far behind some of our wages were compared to others in the industry and even in the company. We’re glad we’re catching up,” said Loda.
Across the board wage increases of 3% will follow in both 2023 and 2024, with 3.5% in 2025, the contract’s final year. All members received a $1,000 ratification bonus and are now eligible to earn annual incentive bonuses of up to $3,000 on top of annual increases. Bilingual workers will now receive an extra $1.00/hour (up from 50 cents/hour). Notably, for the first time, Elizabethtown Gas will start paying overtime, shift premiums, and meal allowances. Members also bargained for, and won, two additional paid holidays.
Importantly, the contract includes neutrality in organizing language, ensuring that any non-union Elizabethtown Gas workers, such as those working in dispatch, now have the freedom to pursue union representation without the company waging an opposition campaign.
Marmalejos – who is one of the original organizing committee members who conducted house visits, answered member questions, and collected authorization cards back in fall 2021 – is excited about the new contract’s pay rates. She is particularly pleased to have achieved improvement in the call out policy, which she says will give her and her coworkers more options for growth. She said, “Before the union, there was no flexibility in the company’s call out policy. You called out once and you weren’t eligible for a promotion for a whole year. Now, you can call out 5 times before you’re subject to discipline. Having the flexibility to handle family emergencies without sacrificing your career is such a relief.”
“It was a long process, but everyone stuck together and stayed strong,” said Vallejo, who had also helped lead the effort to organize the unit and then shepherd his coworkers through the contract process.
“I’m proud of the whole group,” said Christmas. “This was a hard one, but we knew we had the leverage to win.”