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Peoria Defender

Illinois-American Water Strike

Illinois American Water workers in Peoria, Illinois, have gone on strike over unresolved contract negotiations, demanding better wages, shift scheduling, and working conditions. The strike, which began on June 11, 2024, has sparked community concern about water safety and opposition to the company's proposed $152 million rate hike.

Worker Strike Demands


 Giant Inflatable Rat
"Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains." - John L. Lewis

The worker strike at Illinois American Water's Peoria facility centers around several key demands from the unionized employees. The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 399, which represents the striking workers, has outlined the following main issues:


1. Wage Increases: Workers seek higher wages to keep pace with rising living costs and bring their compensation to industry standards. According to reports, the striking employees earn approximately 10% less than the state average for similar positions[1][2].


2. Shift Scheduling: The union is pushing for improvements in shift scheduling practices. While specific details are not provided in the available sources, this likely involves concerns about work-life balance, fair distribution of shifts, and adequate rest periods between shifts[3].


3. Working Conditions: Employees demand better overall working conditions, though the exact nature of these improvements is not explicitly stated in the sources. These include workplace safety, equipment maintenance, and staffing levels[4].


4. Job Security: With the ongoing negotiations and potential changes in the company's operations, workers are likely seeking assurances about their long-term job security[3].


5. Benefits: While not explicitly mentioned in the available sources, it's common for union negotiations to include discussions about health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid time off.


The strike began on June 11, 2024, after negotiations between Illinois American Water and IUOE Local 399 reached an impasse[2][4]. Fourteen employees at the Peoria District facility took to the picket line, signaling the breakdown in contract renewal talks[4].


Illinois American Water has stated that both sides have engaged in "good faith negotiations" and that some employees remain on the job to ensure continued operations[5]. However, the union's decision to strike indicates that the company's offers have not met the workers' expectations.


The strike raised concerns about the Peoria area's water safety and reliability. However, Illinois American Water has assured customers that contingency plans are in place to maintain water quality and service during the labor dispute[2].


It's worth noting that this strike is occurring against the backdrop of Illinois American Water's proposed significant rate hike, which has further complicated public perception of the dispute. The juxtaposition of worker demands for better compensation and the company's push for higher consumer rates has drawn attention to issues of corporate profits and fair labor practices in the water utility sector[6][7].


As negotiations continue, the union and the company will likely need to find common ground on these key issues to resolve the strike and ensure the long-term stability of water services in the Peoria area.


Graphic Showing Arrows Going Up

Rate Hike Proposal

Illinois American Water has proposed a significant rate increase for customers in the Peoria area and across Illinois. The company filed a request with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) in January 2024 seeking approval for rate hikes that would take effect in 2025 if approved[6].

"This punishing rate hike will be a hardship to consumers who depend on the utility for a vital service." - CUB Executive Director Sarah Moskowitz

Key details of the proposed rate increase include:


- Water bills for residential customers could increase by approximately $24 per month[6]

- Wastewater bills could rise by about $5 per month[6]

- The total requested increase is $152 million[7]


Illinois American Water states the rate hike is necessary to fund $557 million in planned infrastructure improvements over two years (2024-2025), including[6]:


- $421 million for water system upgrades

- $136 million for wastewater system improvements

- Replacement of about 44 miles of aging water and wastewater pipelines

- Upgrades to storage tanks, wells, pumping stations, hydrants, meters, and wastewater plants

- Ongoing replacement of lead water service lines

- Improvements to water treatment facilities in several Illinois communities


The company argues these investments are crucial for maintaining safe, clean, and reliable water service for its 1.3 million customers across Illinois[6].


However, the proposed rate hike has faced significant opposition. The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has called the increase "severe and greedy," pointing out that American Water, Illinois American's parent company, has made approximately $1.6 billion in profits over the past two years[7]. CUB Executive Director Sarah Moskowitz stated, "This punishing rate hike will be a hardship to consumers who depend on the utility for a vital service."[7]


Many customers have strongly opposed the rate increase through public comments filed with the ICC. Residents report struggling with high water bills, with some paying $200 or more monthly for basic usage[11]. Concerns have been raised about the affordability of water as a basic necessity, with some customers noting their bills have nearly doubled over the past decade[].


In response to affordability concerns, Illinois American Water has proposed expanding its Income-Based Discount program for customers who have difficulty paying their water bills[6]. However, it's unclear if this will adequately address the financial impact on low-income residents.


The ICC is expected to take about 11 months to review the rate request, with any approved changes not taking effect until early 2025[12]. Public hearings have been scheduled, including one in Champaign on July 23, 2024, to allow customers to voice their opinions and hear from company representatives[7].


This rate hike proposal follows previous increases approved by the ICC—a $85 million increase in 2022 and a $35 million increase in 2016[6]. The frequency and magnitude of these rate hikes have contributed to growing public frustration with Illinois American Water's pricing practices.


shopkeeper

Economic Impact

The economic impact of the Illinois American Water worker strike and proposed rate hike in Peoria extends beyond the immediate parties involved, affecting the broader community and regional economy.

"Continuously rising utility and tax bills are pushing many people to have to choose between food and the roof over their head."

The strike has resulted in lost wages for workers and their families, potentially causing financial strain. While specific figures are not provided in the available sources, prolonged strikes typically lead to significant income reductions for affected employees.


If approved, the proposed rate hike would substantially impact household budgets across the region. With water bills potentially increasing by $24 per month for residential customers and $5 per month for wastewater services, many families would face additional financial pressure[6]. This is particularly concerning given that some customers report paying around $200 per month for basic water usage[8].


The rate increase could lead to higher operating costs for businesses, especially those that rely heavily on water usage. This may force some companies to raise prices, potentially reducing their competitiveness or customer base.


The rate hike proposal comes when many residents struggle with rising living costs. As one customer commented, "Continuously rising utility and tax bills are pushing many people to choose between food and the roof over their head."[8] This sentiment reflects the broader economic challenges faced by many in the community.


Illinois American Water argues that the rate increase is necessary to fund $557 million in infrastructure improvements over two years[6]. While these investments could create jobs and stimulate the local economy in the short term, the long-term economic benefits of improved water infrastructure must be weighed against the immediate financial burden on residents and businesses.


The company's financial performance has been scrutinized in light of the rate hike proposal. The Citizens Utility Board pointed out that American Water, Illinois American's parent company, has made approximately $1.6 billion in profits over the past two years[9]. This has led to questions about the necessity of such a significant rate increase and its impact on the local economy.


The economic ripple effects of higher water rates could be far-reaching. One resident noted that their water bill has nearly doubled over the past decade[8]. If this trend continues, it could affect property values, rental markets, and even population retention in the area, as high utility costs may deter people from moving to or staying in the region.


While Illinois American Water has proposed expanding its Income-Based Discount program[6], it remains to be seen whether this will adequately mitigate the economic impact on low-income residents and small businesses.


The ongoing strike and rate hike debate have also highlighted the broader economic question of public versus private ownership of water utilities. Some community members have advocated for public ownership, arguing it could lead to more affordable rates and greater local control over this essential resource.


As the Illinois Commerce Commission reviews the rate request over the coming months, the full economic impact of these developments on Peoria and surrounding communities will continue to be a subject of intense debate and analysis.


community supportin

Community Response

The community response to the Illinois American Water worker strike and a proposed rate hike in Peoria has largely supported the workers and is critical of the company's actions.

"Solidarity is not a matter of sentiment but a fact, cold and impassive as the granite foundations of a skyscraper." - Eugene V. Debs

Many residents have expressed solidarity with the striking workers by joining picket lines and organizing community support efforts. Local unions and labor organizations have also rallied behind the IUOE Local 399 members, providing resources and amplifying their demands[1][2].


Public opposition to Illinois American Water's proposed rate increase has been significant. Numerous customers have complained to the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), expressing frustration over already high water bills and the potential financial burden of further increases[4]. Comments submitted to the ICC reveal that many residents struggle to afford their current water bills, with some reporting monthly charges of $200 or more for basic usage[4].


The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has been actively organizing against the rate hike, encouraging customers to sign petitions and submit public comments to the ICC[6]. CUB Executive Director Sarah Moskowitz criticized the proposal as "punishing" and highlighted the company's recent profits as a reason to reject the increase[7].


Local officials have scheduled public hearings to discuss the proposed rate increases in response to community concerns. The ICC announced a hearing in Champaign for July 23, 2024, where residents can voice their opinions and hear from company representatives[7]. Similar hearings are planned in other affected communities.


Some Peoria residents have gone further, advocating for public water system ownership. However, in October 2023, the Peoria City Council voted 7-4 against pursuing a buyout of the water infrastructure from Illinois American Water for that year[9].


The strike and rate hike proposal has also sparked broader discussions about water affordability and infrastructure investment in the community. Many residents question the balance between necessary system improvements and fair pricing for a vital resource[4][6].


Conclusion

The Illinois American Water worker strike in Peoria underscores significant labor and economic tensions within the community.

"Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world." - Dolores Huerta

The striking workers, represented by IUOE Local 399, advocate for fair wages, improved shift scheduling, better leave policies, and adequate staffing. Their actions have highlighted concerns about water safety and the qualifications of replacement workers during the strike.


Simultaneously, Illinois American Water's proposed rate hike has sparked widespread opposition from residents and consumer advocacy groups, who argue that the increase would impose an undue financial burden on struggling households. The juxtaposition of worker demands and the company's push for higher rates has intensified scrutiny of corporate practices and the affordability of essential services.


As the Illinois Commerce Commission reviews the rate request and negotiations between the union and the company continue, the outcome of this dispute will have far-reaching implications for the community. It will affect the immediate financial well-being of the workers and residents and shape the future of water service management and labor relations in the region.


Resolving these issues will require careful consideration of the community's economic realities and the necessity of maintaining a reliable and safe water supply.



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