Washington, D.C. The Utility Workers Union of America and Food & Water Watch today filed a petition under an international convention criticizing the labor and environmental practices of United Water, a U.S. water utility and a subsidiary of French multinational Suez Environnement.
The petition – which the two organizations submitted pursuant to the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises adopted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – raises both labor and environmental concerns with United Water activities in the U.S. The OECD Guidelines are designed to promote responsible conduct by multinational corporations in all countries in which they operate.
“Utility workers have been astonished at the bad faith conduct of United Water in labor negotiations in the U.S.,” stated Michael Langford, UWUA National President.
The U.S. National Labor Relations Board has authorized complaints against United Water in two separate locations charging the company with illegal bargaining tactics. UWUA members are working under expired labor agreements in four states – Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania – because of United Water demands for steep cuts in employee retirement benefits.
“Food & Water Watch believes strongly that water should be managed in the public interest, not for private profit,” stated Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “When water services are privatized, the environment and workers lose out, as some of the examples in this petition to the OECD illustrate. Consumers are on the losing end as well, often seeing worse service at a higher cost with private water management. Communities, workers and the environment in the U.S. take a back seat to shareholders in Europe and elsewhere when water services are privatized.”
The OECD petition filed by the two organizations raises the following concerns:
-On May 31, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint charging that United Water Pennsylvania illegally refused to provide information necessary for the UWUA to negotiate over the company’s demands for concessions in retirement benefits for workers. The NLRB has authorized a similar complaint against United Water in New Jersey.
-In December 2010, a federal grand jury issued a criminal indictment charging that United Water intentionally manipulated E. coli bacteria monitoring tests at a wastewater treatment plant in Gary, Ind. between 2003 and 2008. The company has pleaded not guilty in the case.
-The indictment charges that United Water manipulated the monitoring results as part of a scheme to reduce its costs for purchasing chlorine, which is used as a disinfectant before the plant discharges treated sewage into a public waterway near Chicago. United Water’s President has publicly dismissed the seriousness of the charges, claiming the indictment involves a “disagreement about operating and monitoring methods.”
UWUA and Food & Water Watch filed the OECD petition today with officials of the U.S. and French governments. Under OECD procedures, the governments are obligated to forward the submission to officials of the French parent company and the U.S. subsidiary for a formal reply.
Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org; Mark Brooks, Utility Workers of America, (615) 259-1186, mbrooks(at)uwau.net.
Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, represents working men and women in the utility and related industries throughout the U.S., including United Water employees in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.