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What Would Happen if MSD Workers Went on Strike?

The Metropolitan Sewer District and a group of union workers are locked in a contentious labor dispute that could lead to a strike in the coming weeks.

The MSD board on Monday rejected a contract proposal from the workers represented by LIUNA Local 576 union. The agency's executive director will now make a final contract offer by Wednesday, and the union has until Dec. 3 to respond, an MSD spokesman said.

If an agreement isn't made, astrike could result.

So what exactly would that mean for Louisville residents?

The 150 workers involved in the labor dispute make up about 25 percent of the entire MSD workforce, MSD spokesman Steve Tedder said.

Tedder said a strike would not affect homeowners’ monthly bills or their sewer systems—wastewater and storm water drainage and treatment centers and flood prevention efforts would continue.

But that doesn't mean MSD wouldn't incur costs over time.

Most of the employees who would strike work at MSD's central maintenance facility on Bells Lane, Tedder said. Their main responsibilities focus on collections and drainage—which means they maintain and repair main sewer pipes and drainage ditches throughout Louisville.

For example, if a sewer pipe beneath a street collapses or if a public ditch-line is clogged, these workers are dispatched to fix it, Tedder said.  He said the workers do hands-on, “laborious" jobs and cannot be replaced with automated systems.

“The work that they do is very valuable and has to be done,” Tedder said.

The workers include career MSD workers with expansive experience working with sewer systems and heavy machinery, as well as shovel-slinging laborers, he said.

Tedder said MSD officials are "confident" the agency would be able to maintain daily operations if the workers go on strike.

“We would be prepared to handle it for whatever portion of time that we would need,” he said.

But David O’Brien Suetholz, an attorney representing the labor union, said a strike would “absolutely cripple MSD.”

Suetholz said the workers in question are the “backbone” of MSD and the people who “are on the frontlines dealing with hazardous waste and keeping it properly moving and contained in our city.”

Suetholz said the workers with LIUNA Local 576 earn between $15-$22 hour.

If the workers choose to strike, MSD will explore other options for getting the jobs done, like reorganizing staff to handle the workload or hiring contract employees for certain tasks, Tedder said.

Tedder could not say how much a strike would cost the agency.

But Tedder said the agency would act promptly.

“We would begin thinking about it and dealing with it immediately,” he said.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.