EBMUD workers sanction a strike

Workers at the East Bay Municipal Utility District have given their union leaders permission to call a strike if ongoing contract negotiations falter.

The strike sanction vote puts more pressure on EBMUD’s elected board to settle the fairly predictable gap between the agency and its workers on a wage increase and ways to share the rising cost of medical benefits.

Utility employees plan a rally at the EBMUD board meeting on Tuesday, which starts at 10:30 a.m. at 375 11th St. in Oakland.

Here’s the content of the union’s press release:

“(Oakland, CA) The Alameda and Contra Costa Central Labor Councils have granted strike sanction to the labor unions that represent over 90% of the employees at East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD).

“A quarter million union families support these efforts to secure a fair contract, which include healthcare” said Pam Aguilar, Executive Director of the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council. AFSCME Locals 444 and 2019, IFPTE Local 21 and Operating Engineers Local 39 represent the full spectrum of employees including skilled laborers and professional, technical and supervisory classifications.

After five months of intense bargaining, the four labor union locals, representing 1,800 workers at EBMUD, are still not close to an acceptable contract. The major sticking points include medical benefits for employees and retirees and a wage increase that reflects the rising costs of living in the Bay Area.

The utility workers have made concessions in health care by agreeing to pay higher health care co-pays which will reduce the burden of increasing insurance premiums for the District, but they are not willing to pay a higher share of premiums that will drastically erode their take home pay.

“We have been told by EBMUD’s lead negotiator that the District wants shared accountability and cost savings. We are sharing by paying higher co-pays but we will not accept unwarranted takeaways and substandard wages and benefits. Our health care costs make up 6.7% of the total operating budget while debt service accounts for 36% of the total operating budget. Capital outlays are driving costs at EBMUD, not employee benefits,” said Mark Foley, President of AFSCME Local 2019 and an Information Systems Support Analyst at EBMUD.

“We understand that EBMUD, like other employers, is facing rising health insurance costs and that is why we support real health care reform and universal coverage, not the shifting of cost burdens to working families”, said Sharon Cornu, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the Alameda County Central Labor Council. Strike sanction is the formal process that brings union members – in this case, 250,000 union families in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties – into an official support position for work stoppages.”

Lisa Vorderbrueggen