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Sewage plant workers want federal mediators in talks

LYNN – Workers at the regional sewage treatment plant in Lynn want federal mediators to break a stalemate in talks between their union and Veolia Water, the French company contracted to operate the facility.IUE-CWA Local 201 President Jeffrey Crosby said Wednesday the union and Veolia representatives have called in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in an effort to end the “logjam in discussions” to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.A mediator is scheduled to meet with both parties on Thursday to initiate the process.Ric Casilli, business agent for Local 201, said the opposing sides are nowhere near reaching an accord. “We’re pretty far apart, but we’re going to keep working at it. That’s why we proposed mediation,” he said, adding that Veolia wants to eliminate the current cost-of-living formula, increase health insurance costs by 80 percent with no “caps,” and to withdraw a previous offer to begin a modest pension plan.Veolia also continues to insist that the union remove five of the 30 workers in the bargaining unit from the union, according to Casilli.”We do have some common ground on the need for more formal training for the workers there, so we’ll try to build on that,” he said.Scott Edwards, vice president of communications for Veolia Water North America, said the company looks forward to the mediation. “We both believe in having a federal mediator come in. We’re delighted by that. We don’t want a strike,” he said. “The jobs at the facility are good paying. The operators are among the highest paid in Massachusetts, and all Veolia employees in Lynn make an annual base salary of at least $51,000, plus overtime. Some jobs pay substantially more, and over the past six years, salaries have increased by between four and 11 percent.”Veolia signed a 20-year contract to manage the facility. According to Crosby, the company’s predecessor was “clear on its commitment to provide good jobs in Lynn” while Veolia “wants to tear up the union contract.”The union’s request for mediation was its first ever after three previous successful rounds of company-union negotiations, he said.Veolia notified the union earlier this year that it wanted to renegotiate the labor contract. Company proposals included changes to parts of the agreement, some of which had been left unchanged since the first negotiations when Local 201 obtained union recognition for the workers at the sewage treatment plant in 1994.Crosby said Veolia, apparently in anticipation of a work stoppage, has hired a private security force to patrol the facility, and stockpile necessary chemicals such as chlorine and liquid oxygen.”Veolia brought in a private security firm after we received an anonymous phone call threatening potential sabotage,” said Edwards. “We hired them to ensure the protection of our employees. We want everyone there to be safe, to protect Lynn’s assets, and the environment.”The phone threat was non-specific but related to “activity toward equipment and assets,” he said, adding that the company also increased its supply of chemicals in Lynn because the union appeared positioned to strike.”We basically topped off our supplies in advance of that,” he said. “These chemicals are used every day in wastewater facilities like the one in Lynn. We exercise strong safety protocols in respect to all chemicals on site.”Edwards said demands by Local 201 for a less expensive health care package are not in line with other unions in the Veolia system. “Most of our company is comprised of working families and we feel any objective review will reveal that we are fair. We’re simply asking the Lynn employees to pay their fair share of health care benefits, just like all other Veolia employees.”According to Edwards, the company wants the Lynn employees to pay $223 monthly for a family health care plan, which would require Veolia to pay $891 per month per employee. As for the company 401K program, Edwards said Veolia provides a 50 cent match for every dollar i

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