Water utility prepares "Plan B" for strike

The company managing the city's water utility said Wednesday it could keep water flowing through a potential strike by hiring outside contractors and retraining nonunion employees.

By John Fritze

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., May 6, 2004 -- The company managing the city's water utility said Wednesday it could keep water flowing through a potential strike by hiring outside contractors and retraining nonunion employees.

Veolia Water, a French-owned company that oversees the city's water operations, reached out to contractors and began training employees for other work months ago, said President Tim Hewitt.

"We have made arrangements in the community (with contractors) that have promised to come and help" if the union strikes, said Hewitt, who added that the company would prefer not to use that option. "Will it be a strain? Sure, it'll be a strain."

But, Hewitt said, it will keep water moving.

The company's contract with Local 131 of the National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, which represents more than 200 employees, expires at midnight today. In preparation for a strike, the company has erected a guard shack and fencing around its administration office.

Both sides met with a mediator Wednesday and planned to meet again today.

A union official did not return a phone call seeking comment. In the past, some have questioned whether the company can sustain the same level of service with several hundred workers on the picket line.

The contract dispute centers on employee health and pension benefits.

Veolia Water, formerly US Filter, serves more than 1 million customers in Central Indiana.


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