Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Labor Dispute Intensifies at Paaw

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Labor Dispute Intensifies at Paaw

Article excerpt

Early Thursday morning, water gushed from four fire hydrants in Bethel Park. Police said the cascade wasn't business as usual - neither part of cleanup nor maintenance - but foul play.

Pennsylvania-American Water Co. said the early-morning deluge brings the number of fire hydrant tamperings to 14 since June. The incidents come during an ongoing dispute between the company, the largest water and wastewater utility in the state, and its Pittsburgh-area employees, about 144 members of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 537 who walked off the job June 18.

In the company's view, it is a "remarkable coincidence that the highest volume of hydrant tampering we've ever seen has occurred since those employees left their jobs on June 18," according to spokeswoman Josephine Posti.

Bethel Park police Chief John Mackey called it "more than a coincidence," laying implicit blame on the striking workers.

The local, meanwhile, contends the charges are unfounded, motivated by the utility's longstanding animus against union members, stoked by the recent labor standoff. Local 537 members have been without a contract since May 2011.

"I can tell you flat out that there are no utility workers opening fire hydrants," Local 537 president J. Kevin Booth said. "The company is trying to make the utility workers look bad, like we're sabotaging service. The truth is our people are busy on the picket lines."

Mr. Booth said the company has no proof its employees are responsible for the tampering, a point Penn-American concedes. "We have no direct evidence," Ms. Posti said.

Police are on the lookout for culprits, hoping security footage will aid in the search, Chief Mackey said.

The tamperings, which are a federal crime, endanger public safety. "God forbid we have a house fire and there's not sufficient water pressure for the firefighters to do their job," he said.

Police also have been dispatched to work sites, where "the water company is concerned for the safety and well-being of their employees and property," Chief Mackey said. …

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