After over two years of negotiations, UWUA Local 604 members in Lakeland, FL have a new three-year contract. It’s proof that Utility Workers never give up!
Retroactive to 2017, when the last contract expired, the new agreement includes annual and merit-based raises and, very importantly, it dramatically cuts the time it takes for a union member to reach top pay grade. There are some 300 Lakeland Electric workers covered by the contract.
Previously it took electrical workers 16-20 years to get paid the top salary for their position. The new contract dramatically cuts that time to top out at either four or eight years.
While pleased with the gains his members made, Local 604 President Mike Stewart says it took way too long because of the way Florida law governs municipal contracts.
“We need to get the state law changed,” he says, explaining, “Because we are municipally owned, when we reach an impasse with our employer, the state Public Employee Relations Commission assigns a special magistrate to hear the case. Unfortunately, the magistrate’s decision is not binding. We need to change that.”
When city management did not accept the magistrate’s findings that favored the union, the local had to go back to the bargaining table. Eventually, Stewart and his team were able to extract a favorable contract that was unanimously approved by the city’s commissioners.
Stewart believes, “The magistrate’s decision should be binding, just like it is when an arbitrator decides a grievance. We need to elect people at the state level who will get that done.”
Local 604 also represents Lakeland Water workers, who are in the process of negotiating a new agreement with the city.
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