Members of Local 18007 at Chicago’s Peoples Gas ratified a five-year agreement that guarantees historic annual wage gains and adds two new seniority steps at the top of the scale.
In the first year of the agreement, the guaranteed wage increase (GWI) for the 900-plus field service workers was 4.4%, effective May 1. The second-year increase in May 2024 is 4.1%, and there are 3% wage increases in each of the following three years. The contract expires April 30, 2028.
18007’s business manager Adrian Dueñas said the agreement is a good one and sets the stage for next year’s negotiations for the local’s 86 call center members. Their agreement expires July 31, 2024.
“There’s no going back. They clearly set the line there,” said Dueñas.
Planning for bargaining started last November when members made their contract priorities known. Dueñas was lead negotiator, working hand-in-hand with former 18007 President Tim Jaroch, who retired in June. The local’s new president Arnell Newman was also part of the negotiating team in his former role of vice president and treasurer. The bargaining committee focused on job security and getting more money for members, who have been hit by higher living costs due to inflation.
This is the local’s second contract with Wisconsin-based WEC Energy Group, which acquired Peoples Gas in 2014.
“We didn’t want to see 2%. We didn’t want 2.5%. We were really holding the line. It’s the highest GWI we ever achieved in one of our contracts. It’s the first time we got 4’s,” Dueñas said.
The agreement also extended the wage scale for senior members, providing an incentive for long-time workers. “We wanted them to know there was light at the end of the tunnel. That was significant dollars, too, because we added two new progression steps,” he said.
“The biggest obstacle for us was the company pushing for Sundays as straight time. We went down to the wire, until they finally took it off the table. That was a strike issue for us,” said Dueñas. The field workers receive time and a half for Sundays, and double time after eight hours.
The committee called an emergency meeting, and members took a strike authorization vote. “The company saw how serious we were, and they finally dropped that. Once they dropped that, money and everything just fell into place,” Dueñas said.
The contract locks in two important training programs. The Utility Worker Military Assistance Program (UMAP) was extended for the duration of the contract. It had previously been extended on an as needed basis for shorter periods but for the first time is now officially part of the collective bargaining agreement.
The Project Workers to Utility Workers training program was also made part of the agreement. Dueñas said this program, which was created by the local last year, should make a difference in attracting workers, “It’s basically like a one-to-two-year audition for a job. If you come in as seasonal, you will have an opportunity to go to our after-hours program and build a life-long career.” Seasonal workers are paid an average of $22 an hour. Once they complete the program and become a utility worker, they get a 40% hourly pay increase and full benefits.
18007 also made gains in bringing contracted work back in house, restoring 20 locating positions to the local. In addition, the agreement allows for any members who are regressed in seniority and wages for failing required triennial operator qualifying tests to return to their prior status with full seniority once they pass the tests.
Importantly, with natural gas under attack in various parts of the country, the new agreement guarantees that 18007 will be part of any conversations WEC initiates on renewables.