Two months on the picket line preserves subcontracting protections and more
UWUA Local 537 members ratified a new labor agreement in late August that includes solid job protections for working families and ends an eight-week work stoppage by nearly 150 union workers at four Pennsylvania-American Water worksites throughout the Pittsburgh area.
Members of UWUA System Local 537 voted by a strong majority to ratify the four-year labor agreement. The new contract turns back bargaining demands previously made by management to eliminate long-standing protections in the union contract against subcontracting of workers’ jobs. The agreement also drops management’s previous demands to substantially curtail employee sick leave benefits.
Say ‘no to subcontracting’
“The sacrifices made by UWUA members in Pittsburgh over the past 60 days have clearly paid off with a strong labor agreement that will protect workers’ job security,” declared Kevin Booth, system president of UWUA Local 537 when the contract was ratified. “We can now return to work delivering essential public services to our customers without fear that management will destroy working families’ jobs through unfair subcontracting.”
The Pittsburgh Local 537 members were forced onto picket lines on June 18 to protest a series of unfair labor practices committed by Pennsylvania- American Water and its New Jersey-based parent company American Water.
The new contract marks the first time in more than three years the Pittsburgh employees have a ratified labor agreement. The previous union contract expired in May 2011, after workers rejected management’s demands for the unlimited right to destroy every worker’s job through subcontracting.
Pennsylvania American employees in Pittsburgh went without any wage increases for four years while fighting to win a fair labor agreement. The new contract provides significant “catch-up” wage increases to help make up for the loss of any cost-of-living adjustment over those four years, but the union emphasizes that the Pittsburgh work stoppage was never over wages.
“This dispute has always been over the basic right of utility workers to have some semblance of job security for our families,” stated Booth. “Our members have won everything they have fought for over the past three years, with a solid union contract that protects workers’ jobs against unfair management subcontracting demands.”
NLRB Holds American Water Illegally Slashed Employee Benefits
The National Labor Relations Board has issued a decision holding that American Water illegally slashed healthcare and other benefits for 3,200 workers in nearly 70 different bargaining units in fifteen states across the U.S.
The July 31, 2014, decision finds that American Water illegally imposed cuts in employee healthcare, retiree health, and disability benefits on January 1, 2011 without having notified state mediation agencies about the ongoing bargaining dispute, as required by federal labor law.
The decision orders the company to pay backpay with interest to all affected workers and to restore the illegal cuts in employee benefits. The Utility Workers Union of America, which filed the charge against the company, estimates American Water’s backpay liability in the case to be several million dollars.
“This decision is another huge step in our efforts to win justice for American Water employees,” declared Mike Langford, UWUA president. “We will continue challenging this company’s unfair attacks against working families until American Water learns that it is not above the law.”
The NLRB decision involves benefit cuts imposed unilaterally by American Water – the largest for-profit water utility company in the U.S. – in January 2011 during negotiations for a new national benefits agreement. The NLRB rejected the company’s claim that it was not required to notify state mediation agencies about the dispute, despite an explicit provision of the National Labor Relations Act providing that any available state mediation agency must be notified.
Workers in 15 states affected
The agreement is negotiated by a coalition of nine national and international unions led by the UWUA, and covers 3,200 union workers across the U.S. The UWUA represents the largest number of American Water bargaining units and 2,400 of the company’s 7,000 employees.
The NLRB decision applies to union workers at American Water locations in California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.