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Negotiations ongoing with water district, new union [The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.]

By Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 30--LAKE ANDES -- Negotiations between an area water district and a newly formed union are "pretty far apart," according to a negotiator on the union side.

The nine employees of the Randall Community Water District claim contradictions, favoritism and, most of all, health care insurance issues led them to unionize.

The employees began campaigning for union status in July 2011 and were certified more than a year later in August 2012.

Since then, employees claim district management and its legal representation have made it difficult to negotiate a contract.

"For the amount of money they've poured into stopping the union, they could have already negotiated a contract," said Lisa Hicks, president of Communications Workers of America Local 7500, of Sioux Falls.

The water district is represented by Ken Cotton, an attorney in Lake Andes, and Burdzinski and Partners Inc., of Kansas.

"Accommodation is made by the employer to have Burdzinski at the table," Hicks said. "Were it not for that, maybe we'd get more movement if it were a local firm." The water district furnishes water to Charles Mix and Douglas counties, and sells water to Davison Rural Water. The district has treatment plants in Pickstown and outside Platte.

The contention between the district and its employees is obvious.

"The insurance is the straw that broke the camel's back," said Robert Durham, system operator for the district.

Durham and other employees who wanted insurance through the district claim the manager's wife was uninsurable, which drove up the cost for everyone.

"The manager wanted Blue Cross, but the premiums were outrageous," Durham said. "All the employees in the group couldn't do that. It cost twice as much as it should have."

Manager Alvin Van Zee declined to comment, citing legal reasons. But he said the claims about his wife are false.

Durham said employees received a small stipend to help pay for other plans and others went on their spouses' insurance.

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While the employees are in negotiations, Durham said, they continue to receive that stipend.

He said the employees are also upset they have to subsidize their own insurance when the manager's is funded by the district.

"The manager has his own contract with the water district," Durham said.

Hicks said last week she is confident the CWA Local 7500 will reach an agreement with Randall Community Water District. They meet two days each month.


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