Less than a year ago, with the City of Philadelphia still pursuing the sale of Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) to UIL Holdings Company, Local 686 members were fearful they would spend 2015 bargaining for a new contract against UIL and not PGW.
Local 686 utilized all of its resources to combat the sale, as UIL was committed to eliminating layoff protections, pension benefits, and imposing a 20% employee contribution to health care. UIL had also informed the local that they intended to freely use contractors in all areas, including work on live gas.
Local 686 launched a successful campaign to convince the Philadelphia City Council that the City Administration’s plan to privatize PGW was bad for the workers and the city residents. The sale was defeated.
After defeating the Mayor’s proposal to sell PGW, the local was concerned it would be extremely difficult to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement with PGW and its owner (the City of Philadelphia). The attacks on good jobs and services continued as the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission sought to undermine PGW’s operation, while encouraging talk of a state takeover of PGW.
When bargaining started, it appeared the union’s worst fears were realized, as PGW proposed the elimination of all restrictions against contractors working on live gas, sought employee contributions to health care premiums, the elimination of daily overtime, and many other draconian changes.
Unable to reach an agreement by contract expiration on May 15, 2015, Local 686 was prepared to live under terms of the old contract for an extended period of time, as a public sector employer cannot unilaterally implement a final offer in Pennsylvania.
In June, Local 686 secured an extraordinarily good contract for members, with economic costs exceeding $35 million over its five-year term. The agreement provides for wage increases totaling 12% over five years, a 10% increase in starting salaries in many job classifications, a continuation of the current health care plan without any increase in out-of-pocket costs, and no employee premium contribution. Job security protections were also increased by extending the no-layoff guarantee to every bargaining unit employee, including the 623 employees who were not previously protected from layoff based on their date of hire. Shift differentials will also increase by approximately 30%, shoe allowance will go up 50%, the cash out of sick leave on retirement was boosted, and improvements were made to the terms of pension related survivor benefits.
Significantly, protections were won against PGW using subcontractors in almost all areas involving live gas. Prior to this contract, PGW could only use subcontractors on live gas projects that related to distribution functions in the PUC-mandated Cast Iron Main Replacement Program, over 22 miles per year.
The new agreement allows PGW to use contractors to perform related field service restoration work only as part of this Cast Iron Main Replacement Program in excess of 22 miles per year, and on “abandonment projects.” The local believes that accelerating these non-payment shut-offs will actually result in increased bill paid turn-on and other restoration work that remain the sole domain of Local 686 members. All such bill paid turn-on restoration work, all leak and maintenance work, and all new business work will continue to be performed exclusively by Local 686 members.
In addition, guarantees were achieved protecting certain work against subcontracting even though it does not involve live gas, including the Parts and Labor Program, the distribution of shut-off notices, and the composition of drawings in the Distribution Department.
“In the end, we were able to obtain a contract with over $35 million in economic increases, including first-rate health care without any employee contributions, and protected all key areas of live gas work against the encroachment by subcontractors who had been expecting to ramp up operations significantly as their employees replaced UWUA Local 686 members on significant live gas projects,” explains Local 686 President Keith Holmes.
The membership overwhelmingly ratified the new agreement, recognizing that in the current environment, guaranteeing pensions, fully paid health care, and maintaining significant limitations on the use of contractors was a significant victory.