Threatening to trash decades of a productive relationship with members of Local 477W in southeastern Ohio, the Highland County Water Company is demanding unfair concessions of workers in this round of contract bargaining.
Defending arbitration process
Management’s most egregious demand is to eliminate arbitration as the final step for settling employee grievances. This could hurt customers by forcing both sides into expensive lawsuits just to settle routine workplace disputes.
The company’s unreasonable demands for concessions can be traced to a 2016 arbitration victory where the union succeeded in getting the local president to return to work, with back pay, after being wrongfully discharged.
Stung by the loss, the company is holding members hostage by trying to eliminate arbitration from the grievance procedure. The National Union is supporting Local 477W members in their fight for a fair contract.
“The company is trying to eliminate the backbone of the grievance procedure and the National Union will not tolerate an employer denying the rights of employees to address concerns through the grievance procedure to arbitration,” explains Kelly Cooper, UWUA Region III senior national representative.
Bad faith bargaining
“The director and the board continue to hold the members of 477W hostage at the expense of rate payers,” Cooper continues. “We expect the company to negotiate in good faith in the best interests of all involved and stop harassing the employees represented by the Utility Workers Union of America.”
Highland County Water is a non-profit co-op owned and financed by the company’s customers through their water rates. Its 13 hourly employees, represented by Local 477W, deliver safe, reliable drinking water to customers in Adams, Brown, Clinton, Highland, and Ross counties.
The company’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, and their hiring a high-priced attorney to represent them, could drive the cost of water up in an already economically stressed area of Ohio. Every dollar management spends on unfair attacks on hourly workers is a dollar paid for by their customers.
Company demands unreasonable
Other painful concessions the company is demanding include: elimination of all restrictions on the company’s ability to contract out workers’ jobs; new restrictions on employees’ rights to take their earned vacation leave due to a death in the family, and sick leave; elimination of company-provided work uniforms; and meal allowances for employees called out to perform emergency work after midnight to restore essential customer services.