Gas workers in Kentucky and Georgia will soon begin negotiating their first contracts, following votes for UWUA representation. Both are seeking higher pay and the stability and security of a union contract.
Delta Gas, Kentucky
The Kentucky workers are employed by Delta Gas, a division of Pittsburgh, PA, based Peoples Gas. A second, smaller unit of six people, works directly for Peoples.
The workers’ journey to UWUA membership started last spring when they reached out to Dave Cole at Local 619, who alerted National Executive Vice President Pat Dillon. Dillon, National Vice President Craig Pinkham and UWUA General Counsel David Radtke met with the workers in May to answer questions. “That day, we collected cards from more than a quarter of the unit and that got the ball rolling,” said Dillon. There was a follow-up meeting in the form of a family picnic on July 10 where the workers had the chance to meet Region III National Representative Greg Adams and Kentucky Local 600 President Steve Kowolonek.
The NLRB election took place on August 25, and UWUA won by a large margin. A contract committee is now in place that includes Adams, Kowolonek, Region II National Representative Joseph Swenglish and four members. Adams expects bargaining to begin in January and will use UWUA Local 612’s contract with Peoples Gas in Pittsburgh as a template. UWUA has existing relationships with several other companies under the umbrella of Peoples’ parent, Essential Utilities, Inc. (formerly Aqua America), so there’s history and precedent for negotiations.
Adams says the workers’ top priority is pay. “They do the same work as gas workers in other parts of the country but are paid only about half of what they should be making. They aim to correct that,” he said. Other priorities include a grievance process and defined job descriptions.
Once a first contract is ratified, the Delta and Peoples workers will become members of Local 600. Kowolonek is looking forward to welcoming them to his local: “I’m so excited to see this group standing up for their rights and taking on a big company like Peoples Gas. I’ll work with them to ensure they are treated fairly as they go forward.”
Liberty Gas, Georgia
When 70 field and customer service workers at Liberty Gas in Georgia chose to become UWUA members in an October 18 election, they reestablished a presence for our union in the state. About two-thirds of the workers are based in Columbus, located southwest of Atlanta on the Alabama border; the rest work out of Liberty’s Gainesville center, located northeast of Atlanta. UWUA Local 121 President Danny Seebeck helped with the campaign, travelling from Chattanooga to meet with the workers and answer their questions.
Region III Senior National Representative Rich Cossell is working with the group to prepare for bargaining. He expects the committee will be in place and the contract survey complete by the end of December. So far, he knows that wages are a top concern, as are overtime, on-call, and sick pay. UWUA represents members at Liberty in other states and will use Local 369’s contract to get negotiations in Georgia started.
Cossell anticipates bargaining will begin shortly after the start of the new year and looks forward to working with the committee: “I’m here to guide them and remind them that they have control of both the process and their destiny.”