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On August 2, 2017, 160 members of Local 537 in the Wilkes-Barre Scranton District of Pennsylvania American Water overwhelmingly ratified a new contract. The 5 year deal provided many new and several improved benefits, such as significant improvements in their sick leave, and rest periods that will address the type of hours and conditions that they endure on a regular basis. These members will now be compensated while on bereavement leave covering additional family members, as well as domestic partners. While the Company gained CDL drivers, the Union gained compensation for getting and maintaining the CDL.
Combined, there were 21 issues that were resolved, and the parties reached a tentative agreement after 6 days of bargaining. In addition to the above, other items in the deal include a negotiated drug and alcohol policy, bolstering of safety device language, seniority protections, some license premiums included in base pay, shift differential increases, personal day flexibility, vacation carry-over, clothing and uniform improvements, employees will be in a direct deposit system, extension of some take home vehicles, wage bump for leak detection specialists, and a general wage increase of 12% over the life of the package. “This is the third contract we’ve done with various American Water subsidiaries this year. We are bringing a completely different style and philosophy to the table as compared to recent years,” said J. Kevin Booth, System President of Local 537. We provide an atmosphere that is conducive to staying in a room and discussing every issue that is on the table, with the focus on coming up with win-win solutions to every item on the table,” Booth continued. “These negotiations were drastically different from the previous negotiations I’ve attended,” said Michael Olek, President of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton District. “They were long days, but proved to be productive in the end,” Olek further stated.
One significant item that did not bog down this negotiation, and will not bog down future negotiations is the fact that Local 537 has put great effort into bargaining a very fair drug and alcohol policy with American Water which will be presented as part of each contract package that gets presented for ratification, thus saving many weeks or months of debate on the subject. “We were aware of the various agreements and even some National guidelines that were out there,” said David Rowland, System Vice-President. “Those just didn’t work for us. A twenty-six page drug and alcohol policy or set of guidelines is just simply not reasonable,” Rowland continued. “What we have will be easily read and understood by our members. We removed twenty pages of fluff and noise, and got right to the issue,” said Booth.
The next contract that Local 537 will prepare for is their Pennsylvania American Water, Outside Districts contract in Western Pennsylvania. No dates have been set for these negotiations yet.
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