American Water workers from Bel Air, Maryland ratified a new five-year contract with Maryland American Water on March 2, that includes an average 2.75% annual wage increase, an additional paid holiday, the elimination of a step to get to the top of the wage scale and a host of other working condition improvements. The tentative agreement was unanimously ratified by the membership.
The Bel Air unit was part of a group of American Water workers represented by UWUA Local 537 who decided to join a newly formed independent Association in October 2018.
Return to the fold
About a year after leaving the UWUA, members of the Bel Air bargaining unit realized they made a big mistake. “We got no representation from the Association,” says Justin Hawkins, who works in distribution. “We were working without a contract and they never came by to tell us what was happening. Things weren’t going well with the Association so we got back in touch with the National Union,” he adds.
As a result, the UWUA quickly signed up nearly 100% of the bargaining unit and petitioned for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). On February 6, 2020, the Bel Air unit voted 8 to 1 to return to the UWUA as members of Local 648. Shortly after the NLRB certified the election, the UWUA went to work with the bargaining unit’s members and leadership to negotiate a new contract with American Water.
“Things have been great since we rejoined the UWUA,” says Cory Coons, a Bel Air plant operator. “Communication has been good. Any questions that we’ve had have been answered or found answers for. The National’s negotiators were excellent. We had conversations about how to go about getting what we wanted. They listened to us and were very good at negotiating.”
This is in sharp contrast to the experience of those who were part of UWUA Local 537 and remain in the independent Association. These groups have not been able to negotiate new contracts with American Water and they have gone without wage increases, improved benefits or working conditions for a couple of years. They also do not have the ability to arbitrate grievances to protect their members. This “experiment” with an independent association has turned out to be a disaster for these workers, but the UWUA would welcome their return. Any organization can make promises, but success should be measured by results, and in Bel Air, Maryland and throughout the country, the UWUA gets the best results for American Water’s workers.
UWUA representation is best!
“I realize that we are literally 10 or 11 guys and we are not a big operation,” Coons says. “And yet we are receiving great representation from Local 648 and the National Union.”
“We welcome back the Bel Air unit and are glad to see them return to the UWUA family,” said UWUA President James Slevin. As a National Union with over 2,000 members who work for American Water throughout the country, the UWUA has the tools, experience and power to bargain good contracts for members at American Water.
Photo caption: Welcome back! Cory Coons, left, and Justin Hawkins are now enjoying the benefits of a UWUA contract after being without one for a couple of years. “We were very happy working with the Maryland guys to bring them back into the UWUA,” says Local 648 President Ed Kastriva. “That’s the whole idea, the more people we have, the more unity we have, the stronger we are. We’d be willing to work with anyone from former Local 537 and bring them back in,” he adds.