Drawing the line at CPS Energy
IBEW Local 500 memberdescribes the stakes in a recent contract vote.
WORKERS AT the CPS Energy electric utility in San Antonio, Texas, delivered a thunderous "no!" to the proposed working agreement presented to them this month, the result of negotiations between International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 500 and the utility management.
Over the years, a number of workers have pressed the union to increase its militancy--to move beyond meetings with the bosses where they beg for crumbs. The local did start to show up to the fight one time, in 2008, by organizing a mass march at City Hall and giving the local alternative paper access to workers who, anonymously, gave inside information about CPS's dirty tricks against the union and the community.
But that was short-lived. The CEO of the company called the IBEW International vice president and threatened to halt cooperation with the union if the workers continued their attacks. The local leadership caved in immediately and all forward movement stopped.
Collaborationism between the local and CPS management is so bad that, several years ago, a longtime local president jumped to a middle-management position in mid-term, and still retains good standing with the union. Several workers attempted to bring him up on charges of conduct unbecoming a union member, but were shut down by the International leadership, which intervened to save him.
So when the local leadership came to the members and asked us what we wanted to achieve during negotiations this time, we insisted on a wage increase to make up for past years when the company canceled our raises; the right for linesmen and other workers in the field to stop to use the restroom when necessary, instead of forcing them to hold it or return to the service center; clear holiday pay and grievance language; and fixing other problems in our working conditions.
What they brought back to us was a 4 percent wage increase for the year and a $50 boot allowance increase, in exchange for eliminating most double time and going to "benchmarking" (market tracking of wages) instead of negotiated percentage increases. In effect, it was seeking to freeze wages of the workers on the gas and construction side, where the company says it can hire contractors to do the job for half price.
They also brought us language allowing management to change shift assignments from day to night for 30 days at a time.
With only a few days to discuss the details, workers arrived to the vote angry and feeling sold out. Even with the knowledge that management is not obligated to sit down to negotiate a revised proposal (municipal utilities are exempt from many labor and safety laws), the workers voted 129 for and 496 against the proposal!
The bosses and their labor lieutenants have helped us by clarifying our class positions. Now, we must use that to mobilize our forces for the battle to come. We can be sure that their side will not be backing down from this fight; and we in the working class cannot afford to lose it.