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Union Protests Negotiations with United Water in New Rochelle

A union representative said talks are not going well. The contract expires April 30.

Protesters and a giant inflatable rat were stationed outside the New Rochelle offices of United Water Thursday.

About 25 members of Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Union of America held signs calling the utility company unfair and raised their fists to acknowledge the honking of passing cars.

John Duffy, the national vice president of the union, said he was grateful for people's support.

"The general public has a sense of fairness," he said. "(United Water) is trying to do here in America what they can't do in France."

United Water is a subsidiary of Suez Environnement, a French company.

"These are difficult jobs," Duffy said. "They are the technicians and the lab workers who make sure the water is safe and sanitary."

The union's contract expires April 30. Duffy said negotiations are not going well.

"The company is taking a position at the bargaining table here and in other states that this is the way the company is going," he said.

United Water wants the union to accept a two-tier pension system that would eliminate the existing pension plan for all new employees and replace it with a plan that would curtail the company's contributions to new employees' retirement benefits. The company also wants to eliminate retirement benefits for new employees.

The demand for concessions comes on the backs of double-digit rate increases for New Rochelle and customers in . Not only was there an , but there is a that would draw water from the Hudson River.

"It boils down to corporate greed," Duffy said, adding that "a strike is definitely a possibility."

Bruce Farina, business agent for the local, said there have been only two bargaining sessions and there are only two more scheduled—April 28 and 30—before the contract expires.

"We didn't get around to wages yet," he said.

United Water spokesman Steve Goudsmith responded to Patch's request for a comment by sending the following email:

"The actions by the union are in reaction to adjustments to our retirement programs for new employees that provide an enhanced 401(k) in place of a defined benefit plan. United Water is committed to continue meeting with the union to renew the existing contract which expires on April 30th.

"The changes being proposed by the company continue to offer generous overall terms and benefits, while being responsive to the need to control expenses which are ultimately borne by our customers.

"Plans are in place to ensure continued uninterrupted service to our customers while we work with the union to resolve these issues."

In Westchester County, United Water provides water service to New Rochelle, the villages of Bronxville, Tuckahoe, North Pelham, Pelham Manor, Ardsley, Hastings-on-Hudson and Dobbs Ferry and the village of Pelham, as well as Rye, Rye Brook and Port Chester. The company also serves customers in Rockland County, primarily in the towns of Ramapo, Clarkstown, Orangetown, Stony Point and Haverstraw.

Suzanne April 30, 2011 at 05:39 AM
1. The water system in NY is over one hundred years old. There are an over abundance of new developements raising demand. Water has to be tested for all manor of microbes and contaminates (drugs,heavy metals). You don't want to drink the water in a third world country. Water in California is scarce and there are scientists that predict with the growing population and the waste of water, it could be worth as much as gold in the future. Our water has actually won taste tests against others in the country. That's why my friends from California ask for NY pizza and bagels as soon as they get here. The guys who are out in freezing weather when a main has broken, deserve some credit for the work they do. Unions were formed because the rich used and abused their labor forces in this country. People were expendable unless they were rich. If you broke your leg or had your hand crushed and couldn't work, there was no compensation, your family just starved. Your anger should be directed there. Read up on the history of the unions beginning.
Suzanne April 30, 2011 at 05:57 AM
Suzanne 2. I've even heard a rumor that Cappelli, who cons towns into building things like New Roc City (a waste), refused to pay for his water and that's one reason for the rate hike. I just heard a rumor about that. However, pass it on to the little guys(home owners). These people do something important for the community. They deserve a fair shake. A foreign conglomerate making huge profits can't do it without them. It sounds like the greed comes from the decision makers, not the guys doing the job. Maybe the CEO’s should make less. We are not in China or Zimbabwe. We are the greatest nation because we have a middle class. The more it is chipped away at the worse off this country will become. All these haters of unions and middle class just blather on the talk radio and Murdoch’s media empire. They’re raking it in preying on fear and hatred. They don’t produce anything.
NRresident May 16, 2011 at 06:51 PM
A lot of contempt for capitalism. Given some of the logic and facts cited, some of this contempt arises from misunderstanding. Why should anger be directed at a lack of compensation for work injuries? New York state has a famously expensive, mandatory workers compensation system (for the past 70+ years). The CEO of United Water of New Rochelle is paid what his/her boss pays him/her and he/she accepts; the same is true for the CEO of the ultimate parent, Suez Environnement. And of course the same is true of all the employees. If the suggestion to "read up" on union history was directed to me, thank you. I am fairly familiar with this interesting area. Can I return a suggestion? Economics is, as Paul Krugman says, about hard choices. Read up on the economy of our future which, like it or not, will not be the economy of the 1950s/60s. You might find some reason for hope.
NRresident May 17, 2011 at 03:00 PM
I located the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (from the 2010 National Compensation Survey): The percentages of employees who have "access to" (ie, are offered) a defined benefit pension: Public sector employees (state and local governments) - unionized 95% Private sector employess - unionized 69% Private sector employees - not unionized 13% For the 3/4 of the labor force which is private sector and non-union, the defined benefit pension is almost unheard of. This can, on occasion, come as surprising information to some folks in state, local, education and union workforces which comprise the other 1/4 of the overall workforce, where it is taken for granted.

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