Monterey County Herald, 01/20/2011

Guest commentary by D. Michael Langford, national president of Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, which represents 50,000 employees in utility and related industries across the United States.


The Utility Workers of America — which represents the hourly employees of California American Water and 2,400 other employees of its parent company across the U.S. — enthusiastically supports proposals for public ownership of the company's Monterey operations by the local community.

In particular, we support proposals by WaterPlus and other community advocates to transfer control of Monterey's most precious resource — its drinking water system — from a profit-driven private corporation into responsible stewardship by officials accountable to the public.

We believe public ownership would clearly be in the best interests not only of Monterey ratepayers, but also of our members at Cal Am, with the important understanding that the rights of hourly employees who deliver clean and reliable water to local families every day must also be protected.

In our view, public ownership of the community's drinking water system would benefit Monterey consumers by lowering water rates, and should also protect workers by providing for their existing wages, benefits and collective bargaining rights — a true win-win solution.

As a matter of principle, we believe public utilities should be owned by the public. Utility services are a basic human need and should never be subject to the whims of private profiteering. This is especially true of our water systems, which are essential to a thriving economy and to life itself.

American Water, Cal Am's parent corporation, has a disturbing track record of environmental violations in California, Arizona, Kentucky, Canada and elsewhere, not to mention a history of excessive rate hike demands for consumers. Cal Am is currently requesting a 35 percent rate increase statewide for California working families already struggling with the worst recession in decades.

Public ownership of Monterey's water system also makes sense from an economic point of view.

As The Herald and others have observed, Cal Am is authorized a return on equity at ratepayers' expense, above and beyond its cost of basic operations. American Water posted $228million in net profits during only the first nine months of last year, on total revenues of $2 billion.

During 2009, moreover, American Water lavished nearly $7.5million in total pay to only five top executives. Monterey ratepayers financed some portion of those corporate excesses.

For these reasons and others, we believe it is long past time to develop a plan to transfer ownership of our community's drinking water system to public control. The Utility Workers Union of America is prepared to work with Monterey community groups to help make that happen.

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