News Feature | August 27, 2014

PA American Water Reaches Deal With Labor Union After 8-Week Strike

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

pittsburghPA

Pennsylvania American Water reached a deal with a labor union on August 13 after an 8-week standoff that the company called a "strike" and the union called a "labor lockout."

About 150 employees of Pennsylvania American Water had stopped working on June 18. The work stoppage was organized by the Utility Workers of America (UWUA) Local 537. Members of this union had worked without a contract since May 2011, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The dispute covered four Pennsylvania American Water locations, the Pittsburgh Business Times reported.

In August, the utility and the union reached a deal, releasing a joint statement: "Pennsylvania American Water and Utility Workers Union of America Local 537… announced that an agreement has been reached and ratified by union members. Both parties reached a compromise on August 13, and Local 537 members voted to ratify the new four-year contract on Saturday, August 16."

Union leaders praised the result of their effort. “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,” Kevin Booth, president of UWUA Local 537, said in a statement, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"Pennsylvania-American Water said it's pleased the contract is resolved, and looks forward to working with the union," the report continued.

The contentious summer standoff played out on the picket lines and in the press.

During the work stoppage, the union's main charge was "that the company altered terms of employment, seeking to change the share of labor contracted out to non-union workers," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. 

The AFL-CIO, which the local belongs to, had published a blog post summarizing the events like this: "UWUA Local 537 workers in Pittsburgh were forced out onto the picket lines, protesting numerous unfair and illegal labor practices committed by American Water and Pennsylvania-American Water."

What was the company's stance?

A spokeswoman for the water company said during the work stoppage that the labor group rejected the company's "last, best and final offer," according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She explained that the offer "included a $2.2 per hour wage increase, over the average $67,000 yearly compensation union employees receive," according to the report.

A union lawyer "said this increase is meaningless if employees do not have job security and control over the terms of their employment," according to the report. 

The company had promised to provide water service without the help of union employees. A spokeswoman "said Pennsylvania American Water customers will see no disruption in service or any response to problems as they’ve brought in outside management and workers to run daily operations," the Almanac reported

A Pennsylvania Labor Department decision termed the situation a "lockout."

A press release from the union reported: A "state hearing officer found in a July 17 decision that 'the employer was not willing to allow work to continue under the pre-existing terms and conditions,' and that the workers’ unemployment was therefore 'attributable to a labor dispute that is a lockout.' The unemployment benefits owed to workers as a result of the decision will be paid for by Pennsylvania-American Water according to state law."

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Image credit: "Pittsburgh,PA," richardefreeman © 2008, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/