CHESTER — A group of two dozen members of Teamsters Union Local 115 congregated outside DELCORA's offices Tuesday afternoon, as their representatives met with authority officials. They they expressed their concerns and irritations with the process DELCORA is pursing in considering a merger with Aqua Pennsylvania.
"We oppose of the sale or the merger," a Teamster who declined to be identified said. "We don't want it. We don't know anything about the (Aqua) company. We don't want to deal with the company. We're fine with the company that we have, that we work for. So, we're just trying to get in, see if we can find any answers."
On July 16, the Delaware County Regional Water Quality Control Authority entered into a six-week non-binding due diligence period with Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater to consider a potential merger.
Part of the motivation for a sale is the cost of improvements related to a 2000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate requiring combined storm water and sewage water lines that experience problems to be fixed.
DELCORA has said the price of complying with the mandate is hard to determine due to the fluctuation of a variety of factors including how much Philadelphia will charged DELCORA for its shared part in its system. However, preliminary costs have been placed between $300-$600 million.
DELCORA officials say any merger has the intent to keep the authority's 130 employees as well as stabilize rates for its 500,000 customers
With customers in 42 municipalities spread throughout Delaware and Chester counties, the average annual residential retail bill with 70,000 gallons of use is $372.
DELCORA Executive Director Robert Willert explained why authority officials met with Teamster representatives Tuesday.
"We wanted to meet today with the shop stewards and the business agent to get their concerns," he said. "That's why we met today, just to get information."
Both he and Teamsters Union Local 115 Business Agent Michael Darden said DELCORA and Aqua officials will host a joint meeting with union members in the next two weeks to address the members' concerns.
Some members were dissatisfied with the process, saying DELCORA officials hadn't yet notified them about the six-week due diligence period.
"They haven't been very transparent with us at all," a four-year DELCORA Teamster who declined to be named said. "This has been behind our back, kind of a slap in the head ... They clearly know up there that we don't want this. I think it's a bunch of smoke and mirrors with a bunch of snake oil salesmen putting money in their pockets."
He shared his viewpoint on another merger that impacted him — when US Airways merged with American Airlines in 2013.
"I was with US Airways when I was Teamsters with you guys years ago," he said to Darden, "and we got sold down the river. When the neighborhood bully takes over, the little sister gets crushed. The little ones underneath get crushed most of the time."
Darden told the assembled group, "As of right now, nobody is losing their jobs ... Nothing's a done deal. They are going to have Aqua come in and sit down and talk to us about what their intentions are, what they're going to do."
He said the Teamsters' current contract with DELCORA has language that if the workers are assumed by a new company, so are the terms of the contract. Their contract is good for another two and a half years.
"Until then, it's business as usual, come to work, do your jobs," Darden said.
Other union members worried about the community.
Another Teamster said, "I know this city can't take no (more) rates. This city don't make that type of money to take a raise. It doesn't make it. My mom is making $800 a month. She can't take a raise at all. She been retired."
Delaware County Councilman Brian Zidek spoke with the union members about their concerns.
"I don't think any deal done under the cover of night is a good deal," one member told him.
Zidek said the process needs to decrease in speed.
"I think all of us need to raise awareness for everybody in Delaware County just to say, 'Slow down, there's no rush here,'" Zidek said. "Everything's got to slow down. It shouldn't be a rush to do this."
He recommended the union members and others talk to their state representatives and state senators to raise awareness of the issue.