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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.

Rate Payer April 22, 2011 at 08:52 PM
Defined contribution plans are what the rest of us have. No sympathy for the union position on this issue. Greed cuts two ways...where is the union's concern for ratepayers who have to bear the cost of their inflated expectations? I'd like to see a giant inflatable pig with its snout in a trough in front of union headquarters!
napier April 22, 2011 at 09:05 PM
another race to the bottom while the fat cats at the top gorge themselves. Just because the private sector signed up for 401ks which have been the piggy banks for lobbyists and wall street crooks doesn't mean union people need to see their pensions become worthless. I wouldn't be surprised if many of these United Water workers are living in the area and are also rate payers. Less money for the workers and more money for the bosses and stock dividends is what it amounts to.
Rate Payer April 22, 2011 at 09:13 PM
In his first statement, Mr. Duffy thanks the public for supporting the union. In the next, he points out that the affected workers "make sure the water is safe and sanitary". Is he making a suble point that without public support for the union, the water may not be safe and sanitary? What kind of shake-down is this??
Cadeyrn April 22, 2011 at 11:15 PM
"John Duffy, the national vice president of the union, said he was grateful for people's support." A handful of honking cab drivers do not a support base make. The giant rat tells me all I've gotta know about this situation ... it's hard version of the teacher "It's for the kids!" rant. Tough. The union brotherhood has polluted their image ... and this guy is just scenting it all with more stench. No sympathy here. At all.
Aidan April 22, 2011 at 11:24 PM
You can't be surprised? This tactic is as old as the hills. Teachers rumble on about the serious interruption education will experience if the BOE doesn't cave in ... even NFL football bloats insist that America will ever be changed without their autumn blood sport. Be sure to tell the trees not to turn color, okay? It's all a union crock ... and these sorry union clods have a unique ability to ignore the proverbial tea leaves. There is no sympathy for them ... none ... people are too bust feeling their own pain. They don't flog themselves.
does that RaT have any relatives working in New City on Maple ave???I have seen a few who look like him ..in and about the town....he looks very familiar....in Clarksclownville a/k/a New City this rat would have laods of exspensive bottled water!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
mlloyd01 April 23, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Pensions should not become worthless, ever. That's what United and many other airlines did when they filed for bankruptcy. The fact is that defined benefit plans don't work any more. Too many "experts" in Albany and on Wall Street making delusional predictions about the stock market to estimate annual contributions that are supposed to be there when we all retire. It's time to recognize that employees (both private and public sector) are better off having their money in hand annually and investing it as they wish, rather than trusting the "experts" to have their pensions ready for them when they retire. I am a labor guy who doesn't trust anyone any more. Ask the steel workers, the airline workers and any other industry that has seen bankruptcies wipe out their defined benefit plans......401 ks work better. End of story.
Bruce Farina April 23, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Ratepayers?? Where's the concern from the Company, which in case you didn't know made over $800 million profit last year alone, when it comes to putting the burden of health care on the tax payers! One of their proposals is NO health care for the new Employees when they retire! So what they want is to make you work until you drop dead on the job or have YOU, the rate payer, pay for their medicaid/medicare while they continue to take in millions of $$$. As for pensions we're talking about asking for what's fair to both ratepayer and Employees who work an average of 30 years before collecting a small perecentage of what their annual salary is/was. I would also like to know how much of a tax break they received, property and federal, last year while most of us had increases.
fuzzy April 23, 2011 at 01:16 PM
What about the people who have to pay united there crazy rates.
Rate Payer April 23, 2011 at 03:40 PM
REALLY? United made $800 million profit off of New Rochelle water users? I never realized water was so profitable (tic). If this is true, New York State should get into the water business pronto to solve our deficit problems. The reader's comments make clear a fundamental issue facing the labor movement ... they tend to be economic illiterates.
Rate Payer April 23, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Rain, the source of our water, has not become more costly. Interest rates have declined, thus lowering capital costs for infrastructure. Therefore, the only source of increased rates must be increased labor costs, which the union wants to increase further.
Bruce Farina April 23, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Dear rate payer, I guess you didn't read the full article (illiterate perhaps?) It states that United Water is a subsidiary of Suez Environment, a French based Company. They made $817 million profit. Actually as a COMPANY they grossed over $20 billion. If I'm not mistaken UW was granted over 35% in rate hikes over the last few years in N/R alone. The only wages to go up that much were probably the CEO's and VPs of UW. So I guess your ok, as a tax payer, with paying retirees health care when they need to go on medicaid because the $20 billion company refuses to pick it up.
NRresident April 23, 2011 at 08:06 PM
1. $800 million in profit on $20 billion in revenue is a 4% return on sales. Return on equity (the risk capital invested, so that there is a business in the first place) is probably also single digits. Very low, but not atypical for a regulated utility. And that's the point, water rates,here and virtually everywhere, are regulated so that the company can not earn an excessive return. 2. Probably less than 15% of the private sector workforce still has the pension/post-retirement healthcare package that is at issue here. This percentage will eventually fall to zero -- just as public sector employers are finding (where such benefit packages are still the norm), these benefit packages are ultimately economically unsustainable. 3. As noted by the low remaining percentage, the vast majority of private sector employers have already made this change. It probably wasn't made earlier here because it is a regulated company -- while it can't earn excessive profits, it can easily pass on its costs, which an unregulated company (GM, for example) cannot. 4. Leaving the current employees covered by the old school benefit package and simply putting the new package in place for new employees hired in the future is an exceptionally gentle method of making the change. So, simply put, no one is losing anything. Prospective future employees will know in advance what the deal is and can make a choice to work there or not. 5. Love the rat!
NRresident April 23, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Infrastructure costs -- replacement, water quality (acquisition of land adjacent to reservoirs) , Tunnel 3-type projects -- have been huge, hundreds of millions to billions each. Thus the unprecendented increases in our water rates. The projects are almost exclusively union.
Bruce Farina April 24, 2011 at 01:22 PM
I would like to know out of that 4% rate of return, as you call it, how much of that goes to CEO, VPs pay and bonuses and how much to the average worker? As for the public sector the main reason for these huge deficits is most BILLION DOLLAR Corporations seem to be getting around, or away with if you want to use that word, paying their fair share of federal or property taxes! (See GE) Again putting the tax burden on hard working middle class to close the gap! (Raises in propery/school tax) As for your comment on these benefits, pension and healthcare, not economically unsustainable I assume your talking about the Billion dollar corporations? Sorry but I have to disagree. I'm tired of hearing about the "poor" corporations and their need for TAX cuts and cost cutting measures. All of this because of their need to look good on Wall Street. The next time someone out there reads (business section) about some Company laying off thousands of workers check the bottom of the article and I bet you'll see how much their stock rose! That's what your 401k is about! Bottom line, how's my stock doing? Nasty cycle, eh???
E. Nuff Sayd April 24, 2011 at 03:03 PM
http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/03/rain-barrels-or-cistern-my-green-house-aims-to-reuse-water/1 Build your own cistern, or use a rain barrel. It is easier than you think.
Bruce Farina April 25, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Paying for water now. What's next. AIR?
Suzanne April 30, 2011 at 04:37 AM
So you hate unions. They helped build the middle class.
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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