Tennessee American Water and other water suppliers owned by American Water Works Co., improperly cut health care and disability benefits for its unionized employees a year ago, according to a new complaint issued by the National Labor Relations Board.
Alvin Blyer, regional director for the NLRB in Brooklyn, N.Y., said American Water and its subsidiaries "engaged in unfair labor practices" by unilaterally imposing benefit cuts while negotiations for a new union contract were still in progress. The five-page complaint, which will be acted upon in March by an administrative law judge for the labor board, charged that the water utility "failed and refused to bargain collectively and in good faith with the union" before imposing health care cuts in January 2011.
The NLRB has set a March 13 hearing on the complaint. Company spokesman Jessica Presley said American Water attorneys "are still reviewing the complaint and preparing a response at this time."
But Michael Langford, national president of the Utility Workers Union of America, said the NLRB complaint "is a criticial first step in our efforts to win justice" for the 3,500 employees and contractors that the union represents at American Water, including about 80 workers at Tennessee American in Chattanooga.
"We will challenge this hugely profitable company's illegal conduct on behalf of every working family at American Water in every way possible," Langford said.
The Utility Workers Union estimates the company may owe more than $4 million in back pay if the NLRB complaint is upheld and the company is ultimately required to reimburse employees for the changes the company imposed while contract talks were continuing.