Amid contract talks, KY American Water workers express frustrations

Posted at 10:26 PM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 06:20:16-05

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — During the public comment period of Lexington Urban County Council's work session Tuesday, employees for Kentucky American Water expressed their frustrations about negotiations with the company.

"We've had some trying times with negotiations lately," said James Kinder, an employee and the union steward for the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU 32BJ.

Kinder alleged that employees have been subjected to intimidation by superiors, a claim that has been refuted by the company. A company spokesperson said union charges of unfair labor practices filed with the National Relations Labor Board were "without merit."

A strike planned for last Friday was scrapped after news emerged that a tentative agreement was in place between union leadership and the company. Union members reportedly rejected the agreement in a vote.

During the public comment period, Kinder and another employee, Erik Mosby, suggested they were underpaid and underappreciated.

"In 2003 I started at about 16 bucks an hour," said Mosby. "Almost 20 years later it's only gone up two dollars to 18 dollars an hour."

Susan Lancho, a spokeswoman with Kentucky American Water, sent the following statement to LEX 18 after the work session Tuesday:

"Kentucky American Water has continued to negotiate in good faith with the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers Union since discussions began in September 2021. We value and respect all of our employees and the important work they do. Last Friday, Union leadership agreed and announced that they were very pleased with the Company’s revised proposal and felt that the proposal acknowledged and respected union members’ value.  They also indicated that the Union and Kentucky American Water reached a tentative agreement.

That offer remains before Union membership for ratification with further adjustments. While not changing the overall agreement economically, it does accommodate additional union feedback received yesterday in terms of how the agreement is structured. As previously stated, we believe the offer is fair and reasonable and demonstrates Kentucky American Water’s respect for its employees and commitment to providing high-quality, reliable and affordable water services to our customers. As a regulated utility, we must balance the two since operation expenses are included in the rates our customers pay. Our customers, our regulators and the communities we serve expect that balance.

We are proud of our history of being a respectful, inclusive, collaborative, safety-minded culture, which is reflected in part by the fact that we have earned recognition as a Best Place to Work in Kentucky six times in the last eight years.

Unfortunately, filing allegations of unfair labor practices against an employer is a common strategy in these situations. While we are not able to comment on pending actions, the company is confident that the NLRB will find, as we have, that the charges made are without merit."