IBEW Local 659 ends 10-day strike at Eugene Water & Electric Board

EUGENE — Workers at Eugene Water & Electric Board returned to work July 14 through 17 with a tentative agreement that ended a 10-day strike — the first ever at EWEB in its 95-year history, and only the second by members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 659.

The unit of 156 workers unionized August 2003 and got its first union contract, a one-year deal, in January 2005. The union began negotiating the terms of a second contract in October 2005. The old deal expired Dec. 31, and when management unilaterally imposed the terms of its last offer May 28, union members decided to strike. They began their strike July 4.

EWEB is Oregon’s largest public utility, providing water and electricity to Eugene and several communities further up the Willamette River.

EWEB continued to provide water and electricity service during the strike, and the utility’s nonunion employees and a private contractor operated facilities. EWEB has three times as many employees in nonunion classifications as it does in union jobs.

Meanwhile, Lenny Ellis, assistant business manager at Local 659, said the strike brought about an unprecedented feeling of unity among the members of the unit. “Very few people crossed the picket line, and members got to meet co-workers from different shifts and locations that they’d never met before,” Ellis said.

Three issues were at stake in the strike, and all were resolved in the strike settlement.

  • EWEB had proposed annual out-of-pocket health care expense caps of $3,000 per individual and $6,000 per family, but agreed to limits of $2,000 and $4,000, respectively.
  • IBEW members wanted Veterans Day to be added as a paid holiday; EWEB relented.
  • IBEW members wanted the new contract’s pay raise to be retroactive to the expiration of the old contract. The union gave up that demand, instead changing the contract term. The new pact, which lasts three years, will expire mid-2009.

Under the new contract, general laborers get three annual raises of 2.5 percent, while water and electric workers get raises of 4.4, 4, and 4 percent. Depending on classification and experience, pay among EWEB’s union workers ranges from $16.80 to $39.61 an hour.

Also, employees continue to receive employer-paid health insurance. EWEB pays 100 percent of the premium for individual coverage, and 75 percent for family coverage. Employees who opt-out of the employer-sponsored coverage get 50 percent of the premium “cash back.”

A contract ratification vote was scheduled for July 20, after press time. Union officers recommended passage.