Utility board, union issues resurface

Vicky Newman-News Herald

A city of Loudon and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 760 union contract negotiated for two months last year came back up for discussion Monday.

More than 40 union workers - all who were able to leave their posts - attended the regular Loudon Utilities Board meeting to show support and solidarity as Kent Everett, former union steward, addressed the board.

Everett said some items negotiated and agreed by both parties last year were inadvertently omitted from the actual contract.

"A year ago, when we were in contract negotiations, I was the steward and it was the most confusing and uncomfortable thing I have ever been involved in," Everett said. "On the last day of June, we were close (to an agreement) on everything and Lynn (Mills) asked us to meet so a couple of loose ends could be tied up. There was one item that we didn't agree on.

"At 9 o'clock, when we left the meeting it was my understanding that there would be a wage opener and insurance opener each year of the contract," he said.

Steve Oran, current union steward, said that language means that the two issues would be brought back up for discussion and possible renegotiation each year of the contract.

Wages and insurance had been the sticking points in negotiation. According to Everett, union workers were told that either insurance claims would have to decrease, deductibles and copays would have to increase or raises in salaries would be reduced.

"We agreed to accept what they proposed," Everett said. "We want them to follow up with what they'd agreed to, the insurance and wage openers.

"We realized the cost of insurance is outrageous and it is hard on the company," he said. "The men went above and beyond to change their prescription habits, trying to help the LUB on insurance. It paid off. This year there was a decrease in claims, a decrease in coverage and an increase in copays."

Mike Lambert, LUB assistant manager, said that to his recollection there had been one opener agreed upon for insurance.

"There was an opener for insurance benefits," Lambert said. "We established certain thresholds we had to attain to keep our insurance from escalating to the point we couldn't afford it. We agreed that if we exceeded those thresholds, we would look at reducing the benefit or ask the holder to pay part of the benefit.

"I feel for them and regret this occurred, but when there is confusion, you refer back to what is memorialized in writing," he said. "There was no wage opener there."

Everett said the wage openers had been part of the package on which union members voted. "I was steward and mistakes were made on both my part and your part," he told LUB members. "You left one section (of agreed items) out completely. When you came to me, I said, 'Well, it shouldn't be a problem. We know what we voted on. We can fix it.'

"As steward, I have met with Lynn and Mike. They have not been a pleasure to deal with," he said. "They don't recall the wage opener being in the contract. All of these guys remember it, but they don't."

Everett asked the board to consider honoring the wage opener and insurance opener.

"That it was not in there was an oversight on my part," Everett said. "The committee didn't pick it up either because it was not a change to the document."

Everett said his character was at stake. "I am not steward anymore, but these guys are here in support of me. I was responsible and this puts my integrity into question," he said.

John Hutton, LUB chairman, said the board would discuss the matter in executive session. "You are welcome to come back to the meeting after we recess," Hutton said.

Union workers remained in the LUB building for more than an hour while board members discussed the request. When the meeting reopened, the union workers filed back in.

Hutton said the board had discussed the request.

"We appreciate that you came to the board. I know how it feels to have someone question your integrity," he said. "If someone is thinking you misled them, that's too bad. I hate it has come to this. Thank you  for coming in but there is nothing in the memorandum of understanding that there would be a wage opener. The board agreed to continue on two more years like we agreed upon."

Before Hutton stopped speaking, the workers were leaving the room, gathering outside to talk among themselves.

Oran said the board would not agree to meet with the workers without Mills present. The union would discuss what further steps might be taken, he said.

In other action, LUB:

● Established natural gas rates for July at 91 cents per 100 cubic feet.

● Authorized a 1989 Chevrolet S10 to be surplus.

● Awarded a $1.833 million bid for CMOMs rehabilitation to low bidder Improved Technologies Group LLC.

● Approved a contract of $9.229 million with W. Rogers Company for expansion of the water treatment plant.

● Authorized a $22,995 contract with CCR Environmental for the search and relocation of endangered pink muskets in the Tennessee River. The project is required for a Tennessee Valley Authority permit to be issued for the water plant expansion.

● Approved the sponsoring of a team, $300, and a hole, $100, for the Philadelphia Alumni, Faculty and Friends Golf Tournament.