Thursday, October 31, 2013

Water Workers Threaten Strike on Average Salary of $87,595

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group
OAKLAND -- Yet another public agency union is threatening to go on strike in the East Bay. 

This time it's 650 employees at the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, which brings water and sewer service to 1.3 million customers. 

The American Federation of State and County and Municipal Employees Local 2019, whose members earn an average salary of $87,595 a year, will go on strike if management does not offer a pay raise above a 4 percent cap it has previously proposed during nine months of negotiations, union president Mark Foley said on Thursday. 

No strike deadline has been set, he said. 

The strike threat comes on the heels of labor problems at two other public agencies serving the East Bay: two BART strikes and failed negotiations at AC Transit, which is currently in a 60-day cooling off period. 

The utility district employees threatening to go on strike include water quality inspectors, engineers, clerical staff, park rangers and emergency dispatch employees. Both management and union officials have said a strike would not disrupt water or sewer services. 

"But our employees do the water quality sampling, they serve as park rangers in our recreation areas and they do our customer service," Foley said. 

The union is coming off a two-year wage freeze it agreed to during the recession, Foley said, and members have been without a contract for six months. 

Michael Rich, manager of employee relations for the utility, said it has offered workers a four-year contract with raises each year tied to the Consumer Price Index, which measures prices of consumer goods, capped at 4 percent a year. 

Foley said his workers do not want a cap because the CPI could go above 4 percent. 

"We're trying to maintain the middle class," Foley said. "We're not asking for raises outside of what other similar industries are getting. We believe we deserve a meaningful raise coming off two years of frozen wages." 

Rich said talk of a strike is not going in the right direction. 

"Unwarranted is the word I would use," Rich said. "We've only had one strike and that was in 1985." 

If other unions at the utility joined in a possible strike in solidarity, Rich said management would go to court to prevent that. 

"There's a public health issue when you talk about people's water and wastewater," Rich said. 

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