Workers at Delta Gas in Kentucky had big reasons to celebrate following the October 17 ratification of their very first UWUA contract. Effective November 1, base wages rose anywhere from 5% to 45%, with over half of the unit seeing a bump of at least 15% on the contract’s first day. The unit’s 97 workers will see additional compounded increases of 9% through guaranteed wage increases over the contract’s 3.5-year term.
These workers voted to become UWUA members in August 2022 and started bargaining in February 2023. They sought better pay but also fairness. Local 600 President Steve Kowolonek, who helped with both the organizing drive and bargaining, said, “This group was treated so poorly for so long. They had no job descriptions. Everything was arbitrary and pay was all over the place.”
Twenty-plus intensive sessions and eight months later, they have an agreement.
Delta workers James Sharp, Jamie Cooke, Brandon Patton, Mark Dezarn, and Johnny Mills served on the negotiating committee, representing field service, transmission and construction workers in 11 locations throughout Eastern, South Central and Central Kentucky. They were joined by Kowolonek and UWUA National Representatives Greg Adams and Joe Swenglish.
The company’s large geographic area posed challenges for keeping everyone informed on what was happening at the table. Dezarn said, “The committee did a lot of texting and emails to keep everyone up to date, and membership meetings were held on a rotating basis in different locations.”
Delta is a division of Pittsburgh, PA, based Peoples Gas, where UWUA Local 612 represents workers. Peoples Gas is owned by Essential Utilities, Inc. UWUA has existing relationships with several companies under the Essential Utilities umbrella.
Important gains were also achieved in grievance and union administration.
“Members are most happy that the contract imposes a structure on pay, benefits and promotions. We were way behind the industry in wages and this contract corrects that,” said Dezarn.
Mills added, “I’m most proud of getting seniority recognized and bringing up the wages of my coworkers. We got a great first contract that puts us in a strong position for the future.”
Mills, a 9-year veteran of the company had worked a prior job with union representation, so the union experience wasn’t completely new to him. It was, however, his first time serving on a negotiating committee. Dezarn, who had no prior experience with unions, said serving on the committee was an amazing experience: “I couldn’t believe that the UWUA was willing to stand up and fight for us. Greg Adams, Joe Swenglish and Steve Kowolonek had just met us, yet they took on our fight and were with us from day one.”
According to Dezarn, local management had no experience dealing with a union. “We were lucky that Peoples was more familiar with collective bargaining. Corporate was able to send people to do the negotiating that were used to the process.”
Workers are so pleased with the results that over 90% have signed up for dues check off — including some workers who had voted against the union during the organizing drive. Of his coworkers, Mills said, “Everyone is starting to realize that the union is all good. Everyone’s input counts. It’s all positives and no negatives.”
Kowolonek added, “I was really heartened to see that even here, in a right-to-work state like Kentucky, there are workers out there who are willing to stand up not only for themselves but for each other. This group stuck together and made sure that everyone, new and old alike, came out a winner with this agreement.”