Local 582 recently settled a new four-year agreement with the Grand Haven Board of Light & Power, a community-owned electric company in Michigan. The contract is notable because it is the first negotiated since the city closed its coal-powered generation plant in 2020.
Beau Ryther, the local’s president for 12 years, says that pay was members’ top priority, and the new contract delivers substantial increases: 4.5% in year one; 4% in year two; 3.5% in year three; and 3% in year four. As an extra safeguard against future inflation, it includes a provision for a wage reopener in the final two years if needed. “This is a record for us. We’ve never had a contract with this level of across-the-board increases.”
Negotiations took extra time because there were a lot of issues to sort out after the closure of the plant. Grand Haven had been producing its own power since the late 1800s, with UWUA representing the city’s electric utility workers for the past three decades. Ryther said the city kept its word and did not lay off or cut the pay of any members when the plant closed. However, he added, “We had a lot of work to do at the table to determine pay for certain jobs and placements.”
Grand Haven now buys power off the grid to service its 15,000 customers. Local 582 members continue to run the city’s power distribution network and are also involved in the cleanup of the closed facility. Ryther says the city is committed to maintaining a municipal-owned utility: “We’re highly valued by the community because outages rarely last more than a few hours. They see what can happen in other places and appreciate how fast our restoration is.”
The new agreement keeps members’ healthcare costs below those of other Grand Haven municipal employees. State law requires public employees to pay 20% of health premiums. Historically, Local 582 members have had a waiver and only paid 5%. During this round of bargaining, the city tried to remove the waiver and bring payments up to the 20% threshold. In the end, the union agreed to pay an additional 1% in each of the contract’s final three years.
The contract also includes improvements in paid time off, double-time and rest periods for linemen on storm duty. “Our linemen never had this, and it was an issue we pushed hard for,” Ryther said.
Ryther credits Region IV National Representative Jim Gennett for his work on behalf of Local 582 and many other small utilities in the area. “He was with us every step of the way and stood willing to fight for whatever the members wanted and for as long as needed.”