The Electrical Worker online
December 2012

Big Win at NLRB for American Water Co. Workers
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An administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board has upheld a charge by a coalition of 19 unions, including the IBEW, accusing American Water Co. of violating the National Labor Relations Act. American Water has been ordered to make its workers whole — including interest — for additional payments they have made for medical insurance, short-term disability coverage and retiree health insurance after the company unilaterally modified the terms of its agreement in January 2011. The back pay liability is estimated to be several million dollars.

The judge held that American Water violated the NLRA by failing to notify state mediation agencies about an ongoing dispute with the unions over benefit coverage.

The company, which sells water to customers in hundreds of municipalities, plans to appeal the ruling.

American Water will make payments to eligible members of bargaining units represented by St. Louis Local 2; Springfield, Ill., Local 51; Joplin, Mo., Local 95; Indianapolis Local 1393 and Kansas City, Mo., Local 1464.

Seventy bargaining units representing 3,500 members in 14 states negotiate wages and working conditions locally. However, their benefits are bargained on a national basis led by the largest union at American Water, the Utility Workers Union of America.

In a June story on, Matt Moore, former business manager of Springfield, Ill., Local 51, representing plant operators and servicemen at American Water, said, "Some of our members were paying $85 per month out-of-pocket for family medical benefits. [After the unilateral changes] they are now paying $250 to $300 per month."

Bob Fox, assistant business agent, Indianapolis Local 1393, represents 60 American Water workers covered by two local contracts at 15 locations in his jurisdiction. He says, "This is an awesome victory. It took a while to get this decision, but good things can sometimes take a long time. I know the membership is relieved to know that someone outside of American Water could see that the company was acting illegally."

American Water and other large companies are increasing their stake in buying or managing publicly-run water treatment and distribution assets that employ union members.

Editor’s Note: The January issue of The Electrical Worker will feature an article about a struggle by workers at an IBEW-represented municipal waste water treatment plant in Nebraska to stop the city’s mayor and city council from privatizing the plant by selling management of the facility to Veolia Environment, American Water’s largest competitor.


Led by the Utility Workers Union of America, a coalition of unions, including the IBEW, won an NLRB complaint charging American Water with unilaterally raising health insurance costs on 3,500 members of 70 bargaining units.