Pgw, Union In Tentative Agreement On 3-year Contract Job Security Is The Key Issue For Local 686 Members. Pgw Stands To Gain Flexibility In Work Assignments.

Posted: June 02, 1998

Philadelphia Gas Works yesterday reached tentative agreement on a three-year contract with its 1,500 office and field workers.

The pact includes a total 7.8 percent wage increase and a no-layoff clause, a key provision as the gas works faces the likelihood of competition. The agreement, completed by union and management negotiators at 4:30 a.m. Saturday, was endorsed yesterday by the executive board of the Gas Works Employees Union, Local 686 SEIU.

A union ratification vote and a vote by PGW's board of directors, the Philadelphia Facilities Management Corp., are set for this week.

In addition to the no-layoff clause for all current employees, the contract would bar the company from using part-timers, which it currently doesn't use, and would continue language barring subcontractors from performing work within the union's ``capacity.''

``Any work to be done, Local 686 will do it,'' said union president Joseph G. Given.

For its part, PGW stands to win additional flexibility in work assignments and a ceiling on health insurance premiums for workers using traditional indemnity plans.

PGW president James Hawes 3d said the contract would allow PGW to cross-train employees to handle multiple tasks as conditions require.

``I think the labor contract is extraordinarily significant in terms of our ability to save money but also to improve service,'' Hawes said.

Wages would rise 1.5 percent in November, 2 percent next May, 1 percent in November 1999, and 3 percent in May 2000. Local 686 members earn an average of $21.50 per hour, or $37 an hour including the value of benefits.

Given said wage increases were secondary to job security for his members because of legislative proposals to allow all Pennsylvania gas users to choose their gas supplier.

``It's a good contract,'' said Given, who noted that Peco Energy is cutting 1,200 jobs because of electric competition. ``With deregulation coming down and the uncertainty of the environment, this is a big plus for us.''

Local 686's previous contract expired May 15. PGW supplies gas to 490,000 residential customers and 24,000 commercial and industrial accounts.

Separately, Hawes announced yesterday he reimbursed PGW for $500 in expenses related to a trip to the Pennsylvania Society's political gala in New York and a $1,100 donation to the scholarship fund of Morehouse College, his alma mater.

Hawes said the $500 expense related to the cost of taking his family to the meeting. Hawes said he approved the donation to Morehouse, a historically black college, in recognition of PGW employees' donation of more than $70,000 to the United Negro College Fund.

Hawes said the expenses, ``while consistent with general practices in the private sector . . . are less common in the public sector. Rather than allow these issues to distract us from the important matters at hand, I have reimbursed PGW.''

Hawes also responded to a report in yesterday's Philadelphia Daily News questioning his acceptance of a trip to the 1997 Masters golf tournament paid for by a company that transmits gas to PGW.

The Daily News quoted City Solicitor Stephanie Franklin-Suber as saying that Hawes' attendance appeared to violate the city's conflict-of-interest policy because his expenses were paid by the Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Corp. (Transco), one of two companies that transmits gas to PGW.

Hawes said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sets rates for both Transco and Texas Eastern Pipe Line Corp., the other pipeline used by PGW, and that both pipelines were being used to their full capacity.

Hawes said he took the trip to allow him to ``network'' with pipeline and other utility officials. He said both companies invite PGW executives to similar outings and that there was ``absolutely nothing'' Transco could gain by paying his expenses.

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