Four hundred Local 470 members who work for United Illuminate in Connecticut welcomed the new year enjoying the benefits of a new contract that protects their jobs, brings 3.5% annual wage increases, and keeps health care costs level, for the duration of the 4.5-year agreement.
Gains came during the onslaught of the pandemic after local leaders and the employer agreed to extend their old contract for six months while negotiating the new one.
No-layoff clause is key
“We like long-term contracts,” explains Local 470 President Moses Rams. “The no-layoff clause for everyone covered by the contract is the most important thing,” he explains, adding, “Going forward, we agreed to an enhanced 401(k) that will replace our defined benefit pension for new hires and, as a result, current members can now take an in-service retirement at age 60 and start collecting their annuity or lump sum payment while continuing to work.”
United Illuminate is a subsidiary of Avangrid, which owns eight electric and natural gas utilities in New York and New England, as well as renewable generation facilities, mostly wind, in 22 states. Avangrid is now pursuing the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind project off the coast of Cape Cod through a joint venture with Vineyard Wind. Avangrid’s parent corporation, Iberdrola is a multinational energy utility based in Spain.
Data influences outcome
Over his almost 20 years as Local 470 president, Rams has negotiated a number of strong contracts and lead successful efforts for the continuous growth of his membership.
He credits his local’s success negotiating contracts in large part to, “Sticking to the facts,” he says. “Market data is really important to the way we negotiate and it makes our argument for what our members deserve stronger. We want our members’ wages, benefits and working conditions to be comparable to other utility workers who work in electric or gas in the New York metropolitan region.” He explains, “I want to be compared to people who work here. I don’t want to be compared to a utility worker where they might not even be union and are paid half of what we make. And we’ve been successful in establishing this in our negotiations.”
Members build value
Moses and his local leadership stress the importance of building the strength of their membership by asking the question “How do we make ourselves more valuable?” He explains, “No one knows your work better than you do. We decided to identify subject matter experts/leaders within our own ranks that can lead the work safely, proficiently and better than any other person — foreman, supervisor, or outside entity. You don’t have to look very far for that person, he or she may be right in front of you. When that leader arises, they teach us how we can be more valuable. That, in turn, helps us at the bargaining table.”
Local 470 call center members are an example of how UWUA members’ knowledge of their jobs and how best to do them can lead to success during contract negotiations. During the previous round of bargaining, the employer wanted to outsource call center work. The local fought back and proved to United Illuminate that it made economic sense to keep call center services in-house with union members doing the work.
In addition to the 400 members at United Illuminate, Local 470 represents another 100 members working in PSE&G powerhouses and at Southern Connecticut Gas.