Tom Schneider, president of local 335 at Missouri American Water, says his dad worked for the water company for more than forty years. “Used to be that at contract time,” he told me, “workers would wonder what they were going to get that year. Now they wonder what the company is going to take away.”


And that, in short, is the story of unions all over this country right now.

Missouri American Water Co. is part of a nationwide privately owned utility. The national entity, every time a contract is up for renewal, follows this pattern: demands unreasonable concessions, refuses to budge during negotiations, eventually declares an impasse, and as a result imposes whatever contract it jolly well wants to. In November, MAWC declared an impasse and imposed a contract that hikes employee health premiums by 52%. As in 52 friggin’ percent–all while raising out of pocket costs and cutting coverage. Oh, and one more little thing: they’re demanding the right to outsource whatever jobs they’re not in the mood to pay union wages for.

Other than that, it’s a very nice contract.

Geewhillikers, you say, those poor bosses at American Water. The company must be in dire straits if it is forced to come down so hard on workers. Yeah, it’s true. They only made 35% more profit in the third quarter of last year than in the previous year. Kinda puny, don’t you think? At least, though, they did manage to eke out a princely package for the top execs. In fact, when their CEO resigned last August, they agreed to pay him $1.2 million not to work for the next two years.

That generous spirit as regards their top employees has, unfortunately, made it necessary for the company to request huge rate hikes all over the country. The requested hikes range from 14% to 200%. MAWC got a 15% rate hike in St. Louis County in 2010. California is being pressured for 28%; Kentucky for 37%; and so it goes.

Sadly, MAWC is finding that local 335 casts a jaundiced eye on the company’s predatory behavior and is fighting back. In near 100 degree heat late Tuesday afternoon, after their work shifts ended, somewhere between 75 and 100 people gathered outside the headquarters on Craig Road in St. Louis County carrying signs and chanting.

Union protest at MO American Water

Union protest at MO American Water

Lew Moye at Union protest at MO American Water

Lew Moye, legendary president of the Black Trade Unionists, uses the bullhorn to rev up the crowd

Workers protest at MO American Water

Twenty foot rat holds a sign: MANAGEMENT is unfair to its employees. WILL THEY BE FAIR TO YOU?

Now, even if the turnout was 100 rather than 75, would you think that protest would get the union very far against a national utility company? If that’s all there was to it, the honchos could sit in their air conditioned offices chuckling smugly. But the word is that they are less than smug. For one thing, demonstrations like this one occurred all over the nation on Tuesday. More important, such demonstrations have been happening in St. Louis for months. Every weekend, a different exec gets his McMansion picketed. And at least once a week, workers get off their shifts at the water plant and pick up a protest sign.

Union protest at MO American Water

Union protest at MO American Water

This proud papa is teaching his sons about unions.

union protest at MO American Water

Much as you may sympathize with workers under attack by the bosses, be aware that you, too, are under attack, as a union circular explains:

Missouri American water has unilaterally reneged on a jobs commitment made to the Union to get is support of a rate increase sought by the company before the Public Service Commission. They came to the Union in 2002 to back their efforts to get a rate increase, which we did and it passed. For our support, they agreed in writing that all future  construction work funded by a surcharge rate approval would be the Union’s work. Now, MAWC has decided to back out of this agreement because it wants to subcontract out this work. … Asking for a “surcharge” for construction allows the company to avoid lengthy review by the PSC and shortcuts the PSC’s normal approval process. The company is currently asking for another surcharge increase that could raise consumer water rates.

Clap a hand over your back pocket. Corporate utilities, yecch! And to think that Republicans badmouth the job government does. Give me a public utility. Please.