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Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr. - JEA board of directors member Ron Townsend, JEA Managing Director and CEO Jim Dickenson, board Secretary Cynthia Austin and board Chair Ashton Hudson celebrate Tuesday. JEA was recognized for having the best-tasting drinking...
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Apr. 18, 201212:00 PM EST

JEA board wants to save $20 million on union contract: Utility wins award for best-tasting drinking water

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

The JEA is predicting a $20 million savings over the next 10 years through an adjustment to the pension plan of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union 1618.

The board approved the agreement Tuesday.

The new labor contract for 158 electrical workers represented by the union at the St. Johns River Power Park includes a pension change that introduces a Cash Balance Plan and 457 match for all new employees and those with fewer than 10 years of service.

About 60 percent of the bargaining unit will be transitioned to the hybrid cash balance plan. The contract covers 2009-12 with the contract set to expire Sept. 30, 2012.

The two sides have been negotiating the contract since the summer of 2009.

“It is affecting the membership and we really need to get this thing through because we are potentially losing some pretty good people in some hard areas to hire,” said Rodney Wickham, president and business manager for IBEW 2358, which represents linemen and substation workers at JEA and is involved with separate contract negotiations.

Board Chair Ashton Hudson told Wickham that the utility is working to stay competitive.

“Rest assured that this management team and this board is committed to JEA remaining competitive on pay throughout our organization,” Hudson said.

“Unfortunately, our legislative body has not been cooperative with our attempts to put forward what we think is a fair, equitable and market-based contract. We will continue to push forward,” he said, referring to a City Council vote on Feb. 14.

Council rejected five JEA collective bargaining agreements, denying deals that would have provided raises of 1.5 to 3 percent for the majority of the utility’s employees.

Several Council members had raised issues with the pay raises, which had been reached in deals with the unions and JEA, saying that City and public safety employees took pay cuts or received no wage increases.

At the time, JEA CEO Jim Dickenson stated his case for contract approval and told Council members that the utility had been proactive in its cuts and savings.

The membership of IBEW 1618 at St. Johns River Power Park has yet to vote on the contract the board approved Tuesday, which could be the final step for ratifying the contract if the membership approves it.

The board also was notified of an award that JEA recently received.

JEA is the winner of the 2012 Region II Best Drinking Water Taste Test. The competition is an annual drinking-water taste test sponsored by the American Water Works Association. It is held in each of Florida’s 12 regions.

Region II includes Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler counties. Regional winners compete at the state level in Tallahassee, with the state winner invited to submit samples for the national Best of the Best Water Taste Test.

Seven utilities entered the Region II contest this year: The City of Atlantic Beach, St. Johns County, Putnam County, Palm Coast Utilities, City of St. Augustine, Welaka and JEA.

“I’m really proud of our operations people because this is no easy feat for us. We are competing with other utilities that have extensive treatment programs. We have to rely on tighter process control in order to be able to compete against these programs,” said Scott Kelly, JEA vice president of water and waste-water systems.

JEA’s water system consists of 136 artesian wells tapping the Florida aquifer, which is one of the world’s most productive aquifers. Water is distributed through 36 water treatment plants and 4,208 miles of water lines.

Lisa Strange Weatherby attended the meeting as she awaits a Tuesday Council vote on her nomination by Mayor Alvin Brown to join the JEA board of directors.

Hudson recommended that Weatherby serve on the finance and audit committee with board member Ron Townsend.

Hudson said he was confident that Weatherby would receive approval from the Council and the committee will soon be discussing the next JEA budget, so the board wanted to involve her as soon as possible.

Former JEA CEO Walt Bussells also has been nominated to the JEA board by Brown and awaits Council approval.

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