TWU LOCAL 101 vs.
BROOKLYN UNION GAS: 1995

Big Victory; Utility Backs Down Big Time

Marsha Spinowitz is the president of Transport Workers Union Local 101, representing 1,800 utility workers at Brooklyn Union Gas in New York City. On Oct. 26, 1995, she wrote to Ray Rogers: "I'm writing to once again thank you and Corporate Campaign, Inc. for the wonderful job you did on helping Local 101 achieve an excellent new contract… Before we called on CCI, we were convinced that the company would lock us out when our contract expired — as they had done in the past -—unless we agreed to an outrageous set of contract concessions. Our members were expecting to be out of work for a long time. Once CCI got involved, the attitude of management changed dramatically… They ended up taking all the concessions off the table… with your help, the members of Local 101 saved millions of dollars in lost wages and benefits… Thanks again to you and the entire Corporate Campaign staff for all you have done for Local 101."

Letter from TWU Local 101 President Marsha Spinowitz thanking Corporate Campaign
Download the letter in .PDF

Less than a month earlier, Spinowitz, a member of her executive board and the local's attorney met with Ray Rogers. The local's contract was expiring in just 15 days. Spinowitz had been through seven previous tough negotiations with the big energy company, but she insisted: "I have never seen the company going after the worker this badly." The company demanded deep pay cuts, longer hours, reductions in pension benefits, elimination of shift differentials, consolidation of job titles and unlimited use of outside contractors.

It was clear that the company planned to lock out all 1,800 members of Local 101 if the union didn't surrender. Brooklyn Union, which supplies gas to three New York City boroughs, had locked out union members four times in the past, the last time for 13 weeks.

The local had no strike fund and meager financial resources. Spinowitz hoped CCI could do something to shorten the length of the expected lockout. Ray Rogers said CCI needed to do further research on Brooklyn Union and asked to meet as quickly as possible with the executive board to suggest a course of action.

A few days later, Ray met with the executive board and reiterated, to everyone's disbelief that if they moved quickly the union could avoid a lockout altogether, although settling the contract might take longer. Ray wanted to address the largest possible gathering of the union's membership in a location close to Brooklyn Union's corporate headquarters. "I wanted the members to understand what the Corporate Campaign fightback would entail and what role every member would be expected to play," he said. "I also wanted to be sure the company heard everything and got a full account of the members' reaction to it."

At a packed and rather tumultuous meeting, Ray explained that in the event of a lockout, members would be expected to work as hard as they did on their jobs, volunteering 30, 40, 50 or more hours a week in a well-organized campaign to get their jobs back and a good contract. Although members would picket Brooklyn Union Gas facilities, they would devote most of their time to building broad community support and relentlessly bringing economic and political pressures to bear against targeted members of Brooklyn Union's board of directors, the corporation's creditors, institutional shareholders and political allies.

There should be no strike vote, Ray suggested, and the union leaders agreed that it made no sense to threaten a strike. It was clear that the company hoped to force a strike if it couldn't get massive concessions; otherwise it was prepared to lock out the union. The company was highly profitable and 95% of its customers were satisfied with their service, according to a recent survey. The union's public position became, "We will not strike against a utility company which we have helped make so profitable and so popular with its customers. But we will reach out to the public for help, and we will challenge the corporate greed that threatens our jobs, our dignity, and the high level of service our customers have come to expect."

Given the local's meager treasury, CCI asked the members to vote to assess themselves $150 each to raise a campaign "war chest." The campaign would thereby gain some financial footing; later, if necessary, CCI and the local could create the kind of dynamic operation that would enable it to raise far more money from outside contributions. Not only did members vote overwhelmingly to assess themselves, but a vice president of the international union who attended the meeting guaranteed an immediate loan of $100,000 to the local. This was done to alleviate financial pressure on members who expected to be locked out in less than a week and would have had difficulty putting up even $150.

The next day, CCI prepared five letters for the union to be delivered immediately to five key targets. Literature and press releases were prepared and mobilizing began for the campaign's initial, public activities. These would serve as a springboard for mobilizing and deploying the collective knowledge, imagination, skills and energies of the entire membership.

Negotiations continued as midnight approached on the final day of the contract. The company, still taking a very hard line, gave the union its "final offer" at midnight. The executive board basically responded by saying, "Shove it!" At about 2 a.m. and again at 4 a.m., more "final offers" seemed to materialize and brought the same response, "Shove it!" Union leaders said the executive board and the negotiating team remained strong and united because the fightback plan gave the membership real power. By 6:30 a.m., the company dropped all its concessionary demands and the union could point to a major victory. Weeks later, members voted to assess themselves a small amount each month for the next several years so that they would have substantial reserves available if needed in the future.

In reporting the tentative settlement that came less than two weeks after Local 101 "enlisted (CCI)…to help put pressure against an expected company lockout," the Bureau of National Affairs noted that the union not only won "a nine percent wage increase over three years" but also avoided "any job banding, pay cuts, longer hours for clerical workers, cuts in shift differentials, reductions in Sunday premium and holiday pay, overtime changes, vacation cuts or pension reductions.

Other contract provisions gave the union "first shot at reorganizing the work force if the utility follows through on plans to convert to a holding company;" doubled the company's 401(K) plan matching contributions; set up a gainsharing incentive bonus program, and offered early retirement at full pension to workers at least 52 years old and with at least 33 years of service.

Local president Spinowitz told a BNA interviewer: "I think it gave our membership more strength to know that we had an operative (CCI) working for them, while we concentrated on bargaining the contract…We're happy with the results."

Article Pertaining to the
Brooklyn Union Gas Campaign

TENTATIVE DEAL SET AT BROOKLYN UNION GAS
AFTER UNION INITIATES CORPORATE CAMPAIGN
1995, The Bureau of national Affairs, Inc
.

Facing a contract expiration at midnight Oct. 15, the 2,000-member local announced Oct. 13 that it had signed up Corporate Campaign Inc. to help put "economic and political pressure" on Brooklyn Union. The utility company had told union negotiators to expect a lockout unless they made major concessions, the union claimed...

In an interview, local president Marsha Spinowitz said the union's success at averting a lockout and reaching a tentative settlement was due to "a combination of many factors." The corporate campaign was one of those factors, she said.

"I think it gave our membership more strength to know that we had an operative working for them, while we concentrated on bargaining the contract," she said. "He [the consultant] was active when we needed him to be, and we're happy with the
results..."

Public pressure drives mounted by New York-based Corporate Campaign Inc...have come under fire from business groups, who are seeking legislative and regulatory changes to blunt their impact... (Read Transcript)