Utility Workers families could see $5 million in back pay, benefits

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TELLING IT LIKE IT IS, Utility Workers Local 335 President Tom Schneider on an informational picket line last year as Local 335 here and other locals around the nation were protesting the attitude of American Water Company towards its employees in national contract negotiations. Last week the National Labor Relations Board ruled the company acted illegally to impose a nation-wide contract. – Labor Tribune photo

New York - A major legal victory for more than 3,500 utility workers in the U.S. covered by union contracts with American Water Company, including almost 300 members of Utility Workers Local 335 here, could put more than $5 million back into the budgets of thousands of union families.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)  found American Water guilty of illegally implementing its last, best and final offer that reduced union negotiated major medical benefits, retiree benefits and changed the short-term disability plan, announced Local 335 President Tom Schneider.

“We’d like to cooperate with this company, but they have to come to the bargaining table and be reasonable. That’s not been the case to date,” said Schneider.

“Enjoy” said Schneider in a letter to Local 335 members announcing the NLRB’s decision. The company has until Oct. 30 to appeal the decision, which the union expects will happen.

The NLRB ruled that the company failed to give the unions, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and the appropriate state agencies adequate notice that they were going to implement their last offer.

PUNISHMENT

The ruling requires the company to:

• Immediately suspend all the negative changes in all three benefit plans and immediately, and retroactively, reinstate all benefits available before the changes were made.

• Make all impacted members whole for any back wages or benefits lost.

• Go back to the bargaining table with the union and “bargain in good faith.”

• Turn over to the NLRB “all payroll and Social Security payment records, timecards, personnel records and report and all electronic communications necessary to determine the amount of back pay due workers.

“What goes around, comes around,” said Local 335 Vice President Al Ratermann. “This ruling is indicative of how American Water nation-wide treats its employees as second class citizens by not giving us our rights guaranteed under the law.”

OFFER REJECTED

The last and final national offer implemented by the company in January had been overwhelmingly rejected by members from all 19 unions at various American Water locations around the nation.

Seventy bargaining units representing 3,500 union members from various unions negotiate local wages and working conditions contracts with American Water. The local St. Louis contract was ratified earlier this year, albeit reluctantly.

But all health and retirement benefits have been negotiated nationally for several years, led by the largest union at American Water, Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA). The union represents more than 50,000 members working in the water, gas, electric, and nuclear industries across the United States. Unions involved include Steelworkers, SEIU, IBEW and Plumbers and Pipefitters.

GREEDY COMPANY

Jim Lynch, an international representative of the IBEW, one of the unions that were part of the national talks, said that American Water’s top brass “are a breed apart.

“I have never seen a company at the corporate level have such total disregard for its employees. In my 25 years of experience in negotiations with the IBEW, I have never seen a greedier company.”

American Water demanded concessions despite record profits and exorbitant compensation packages to top executives. During 2009, the board awarded nearly $7.5 million in total pay to only five top bosses. The company’s former CEO is currently receiving severance payments of $49,000 a month.

The company serves 15 million customers in more than 30 states and parts of Canada (including 2,500 Missouri). Despite record profits, it has demanded, and received, substantial rate increases in many of its service areas including St. Louis County.

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