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Peoples Gas looks for concessions
Chicago gas workers gear up for a battle

By Sophie Hand | May 11, 2001 | Page 15

CHICAGO--More than 1,000 gas workers may be walking the picket line by mid-May. The gas workers, represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 18007, will vote on a contract offer May 10, following the halt in negotiations April 29. "[The SEIU executive board] has voted unanimously not to endorse this contract," Local 18007 President Pat Coletta told Socialist Worker.

The problems with the contract go beyond workers' concerns over salary and benefits to safety issues for Chicago customers. "If Peoples Gas forces us into a work stoppage, they will be putting people with no field experience working on gas in people's homes," Coletta said.

The company's proposal includes provisions that would transfer a number of services to either lower-paid nonunion personnel or to entry-level workers with no experience and little training. Crucially, the company would complete its program of implementing system-wide "soft turn-ons."

"It used to be that when someone moved out of a residence, the meter was read and shut off, and when the next person moved in, the technician would turn on the meter [and] test all piping for leaks or damage," explained Coletta. Eliminating manual readings and shutdowns means that no safety checks are made.

The proposed contract includes only a 4 percent raise the first year and a 3.75 percent raise in the final three years--and would lead to an estimated 90 to 100 layoffs. "Ten years ago, there were three Peoples Gas vice presidents and 1,600 workers," said Coletta. "Today, we have 16 vice presidents and about 1,000 workers."

The company is asking the union for concessions at a time when high gas prices allowed it to post a $36 million profit in the last quarter alone. Peoples Gas workers haven't gone on strike since 1964, when the issue was a 2-cent pay increase.

"This used to be a good place to work. They used to take care of you. Not anymore," said Al Jacobs, a worker Peoples Gas' service shop. Workers and customers need to band together to tell Peoples Gas that we won't let their unbridled greed endanger our lives.

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