Pennsylvania Water Workers Ink New Deal

Water and wastewater workers in southwestern Pennsylvania signed a new five-year contract in October that brings higher wages and a bump in pension benefits. Local 164 represents 260 members employed by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. Members work in various municipal water and sewerage plants within a five-county region east and south of Pittsburgh.

The authority maintains three treatment plants serving 120,000 water customers and numerous sewerage plants serving 25,000 wastewater customers. That number is growing as Westmoreland County continues to buy up smaller municipal operations, according to Jerry Sachs, the local’s president for the past 24 years. “The authority’s growth has been good for the local. When I started in 1988, we had 168 members. Today we have 260 as the authority has taken on water and wastewater work in several of the region’s municipalities.”

This was the fifth contract Sachs has negotiated in his tenure as local president. Despite the experience factor, he said, “It gets tougher every time, and in recent years it feels like more concessions have been demanded of the members.” Sachs credits a strong and united committee over 10 lengthy sessions for the ultimate success of recent bargaining.

Wage increases were a top priority, and the agreement delivers. Members will see 14.5% in across-the-board increases over the term of the contract plus a $2,000 ratification bonus. In the contract’s first three years, there are no increases to members’ contributions to healthcare. Sachs stressed how unusual this is: “The county usually proposes an increase in each year of contract. We got it down to zero for the first three years.” Another gain is that the county will increase its match to members’ pensions by half a percent, from 5% to now 5.5%.

Under the new agreement, the local’s call center and office workers will now have a 40-hour work week. These members had previously been capped at 37.5 hours per week. Sachs takes particular pride in this gain as it will translate into significantly more money in the paychecks of this group.