NLRB to charge Missouri American Water with law breaking

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By Press Associates and The St. Louis Labor Tribune

ST. LOUIS (PAI) — American Water, the same highly profitable nationwide utility that is trying to drastically raise rates on its St. Louis customers, and using workers from a non-union labor law-breaking company to try to replace its St. Louis Utility Worker Local 335 members, is about to get hit with labor law-breaking charges of its own.

[frame src="https://labortribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/UtilityWorkers.jpeg" width="250" height="150" align="left" style="2" linkstyle="none" title="LAW BREAKER ADB UTILITY CONTRACTOR was hired by Missouri American Water Co. to do this trench work in Maryland Heights two weeks ago while their Utility Workers Local 335 work crews were idle, wasting taxpayer’s money. ADB was found guilty by the NLRB of massive labor law violations in a previous attempt by IBEW Local 2 to organize it workforce. Those violations continued even as the NLRB hearing was underway. – Labor Tribune photo"]The Utility Workers Union of America, (UWUA), said the acting National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) general counsel, the agency’s top enforcement officer, believes American Water broke labor law by unilaterally implementing health care cuts nationwide in January. The general counsel is expected to file charges against the utility in the next few weeks, the national union reported last week.

Some 3,400 unionists nationally, from the Utility Workers, AFSCME, Electrical Workers, Operating Engineers, Laborers, Service Employees, Plumbers and Pipefitters, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Steelworkers, are involved because American Water unilaterally cut their benefits. The unions bargain jointly with American Water on a National Benefits Agreement, and represent the firm’s workers not just in Missouri but elsewhere.

“In November 2010, members throughout the country voted overwhelmingly to reject the company’s demands for big cuts for workers while continuing big profits and big bonuses for bosses. In January 2011, despite our protests, American Water went ahead with the cuts. The company’s unilateral cuts resulted in every member paying much more for healthcare with higher monthly contributions, higher deductibles, higher co-pays, and lower benefits,” the UWUA explained.

Health insurance is a mandatory subject of bargaining under national labor law. The UWUA filed a complaint with the NLRB in April about the firm’s actions.

The NLRB probed the controversy and decided to issue the complaint, including a remedy that – if found guilty – American Water “must reimburse every union-represented employee for the economic losses he or she has suffered due to the company’s unlawful implementation of cuts in healthcare and other benefits.”

After the complaint is filed, the charge will go before the NLRB for trial. Even if the company is found guilty, it has the right to appeal. The final decision could take years.

HIRES LAW BREAKER FOR UNION’S WORK

But health care isn’t the only instance of American Water being involved with union busting. In our Dec. 1 edition, the Labor Tribune reported that American Water’s Missouri subsidiary, trying to break Utility Workers Local 335 here, hired non-union labor law-breaker American Directional Boring (ADB) to install a water main in Maryland Heights. Ordinarily, 5-person crews of union workers install American Water’s lines.

ADB was forced to settle a court case that involved IBEW Local 2 trying to organize the company by forcing ADB to pay $262,500 to 13 union supporters -- almost a quarter of its workforce that it illegally fired. The case dragged on for seven years.

Despite the firm’s plea to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ADB was found guilty of all charges leveled by Local 2 and the NLRB, including charges that it illegally threatened to close if the workers unionized.

In its ruling against ADB, which the court upheld, the NLRB said that non-union firm engaged in “fabrication of evidence against union supporters (and) blatant and unconscionable actions” and that the company’s manager “had no regard for the truth.”

Utility Workers Local 335 “is protesting this outrageous effort by American Water because the company unilaterally implemented a massive take-away contract that allows them to subcontract union work at will. The union is taking this issue to the NLRB,” Local 335 said.

ANTI-UNION ATTITUDE

“American Water is using their ratepayers’ money to subsidize a company that has a notorious record of union-busting, that’s obvious by their record,” said Local 335 President Tom Schneider.

“Hiring this firm to do our work clearly defines the anti-union attitude of American Water,” added Local 335 Vice President Al Ratermann. Even during the NLRB trial, ADB continued to fire union supporters, the NLRB decision notes.

On top of all this, American Water is trying to raise water rates in the St. Louis area by 19 to 76 percent. The Utility Workers, community groups and others are being urged to file protests with the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) against the rate hike plan. American Water earned $268 million in 2010 profits.

PLEASE RESPOND TO SURVEY

By Missouri law, the PSC is surveying American Water customers about the proposed rate hike. Local 335 urges ratepayers to return the survey with strong opposition to the increases, to call the commission toll-free to “express your displeasure” and to directly complain to the president of the firm’s Missouri subsidiary. How? See inset box.

“Let all of them know as a ratepayer, you are not happy with Missouri American Water turning their backs on its veteran, experienced union workforce and then turns around to gouge the public with its unconscionable rate increase,” Schneider stressed.

This would be American Water’s fourth Missouri rate increase in as many years. Between 2007 and 2010 their rates went up three times a total of 47 percent - 12 percent in 2007, 20 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 2010. In 2010 the company earned $268 million in profit and paid out $12.5 million in bonuses to seven top executives while slashing benefits and job protections for its workforce here.

“We believe that getting utility employers to treat our customers and our communities with dignity and respect goes hand in hand with getting utility employers, like American Water, to treat union employees with dignity, respect, and good faith at the bargaining table and on the job,” the UWUA said.

Communities across America are fighting the company’s outrageous efforts to raise rates which cutting local workforces, which in turn cuts services to the same ratepayers who are paying the company’s bills with increased water rates.

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