Labor leader Scott says some Jackson water employees prefer to remain with City, union

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Brenda Scott

Jackson’s two water treatment plants were so woefully understaffed in November 2021 that former Public Works Director Charles Williams warned that “if we lose any additional operators at either plant, a shutdown is unavoidable.” 

Nearly a year later, when 16 to 18 people were needed to run the main plant each day, only five operators or maintenance workers were on the job in August 2022, one expert witness reported. The system completely failed along about that time and Jackson was declared to be in a state of emergency by both the state and federal governments. 

Labor union leader Brenda Scott, president of Mississippi Alliance of State Employees/Communications Workers of America (MASE/CWA), AFL-CIO Local 3570, realized that the union was facing the same dilemma that everybody else was facing in this city-wide crisis. They should join the fight to regain clean drinking water for everyone or witness the entire city falling apart for lack of a basic human necessity. 

The union brought in thousands of bottles of water for free distribution and made sure that seniors and other vulnerable citizens had an adequate supply.  

“It wasn’t just something that impacted our union members,” she said. “But it impacted families, the old, the young the church members, the community groups. It was something where Jackson as a whole needed to come and take a united stance.”

As the leader of Local 3570, Scott reports she wanted to make sure that whatever action she took would be for the good of everyone, while at the same time it would cause no unnecessary pain or losses to the City workers that she represented. Scott kept an open mind but also kept her critical faculties in sharp focus as an unwelcome threat to the status of union workers was about to be proposed with the sanction of the federal courts.

City workers first voted in favor of collective bargaining rights in June 2006. At that time, 1,200 City employees were represented by MASE/CWA Local 3570. In January 2008, Jackson City Council voted in favor of a labor agreement with Local 3570.

“Street repair crews are in the union also,” Scott said. “We’re open to all of the City’s workers. No, we don’t have the garbage workers. That’s another thing. They shouldn’t have contracted out garbage anyway. Public sector work should be done by public workers. Because when you start privatizing out, you put profits before people. As simple as that. That’s why our prisons are like they are. Look at our prisons. They are deplorable. Majority female officers in a male dominated prison system. And they’re getting paid practically nothing.” 


In November 2022, Ted Henifin, a senior, semi-retired water plant administrator from Virginia Beach, Virginia, was appointed as Third-Party Administrator to completely restore Jackson’s water system and was promised a large package of money to get the work done – to the tune of a $800 million overall. 

 Under a Stipulated Order agreed to by the federal government, the state, and the City of Jackson, Henifin organized the private company JXN Water and announced fairly early on that he intended to contract out the water plant operations to Jacobs Solutions, the largest water management company in the nation. Jacobs operates 250 water and wastewater plants, ranging from small to large, across the country. Current employees at the two Jackson plants, he said, would be hired by Jacobs but only if they were willing to give up their protected union status, which means they would be giving up the retirement benefits they had under the state’s Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) system.

All the folks that worked in the water plant in the City when we started this had the opportunity to apply and were basically offered employment if they chose to,” Henifin said.

Both water plants will be fully staffed within the next few months, he said. 

Jacobs initially would be paid $2 million a month for six months, Henifin said. The staff at the water plants would double to 52 full-time employees. During this six-month initial phase, JXN Water and the Jacobs company planned to work out a long-term contract, one that would extend for a 5-10-year span. 

“We’ll both be able to plan better for a fixed-price contract that we anticipate entering for a 5-10-year period at the end of September this year,” he said. “Jacobs is here to stay. We’re going to make a mark on this community. And it’s wonderful to have them as a partner.” 

On August 8, 2022, the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant in Jackson was the site of a City of Jackson press conference centered around the ongoing water crisis. (Advocate photo: Joshua Martin)


Joe Osgood, a worker in the City’s Water Maintenance Distribution since 1998, says he wanted to retain his status as a City employee, rather than give it up to go to work for the new contractor.

 “I did not take the route with the contractor. I chose to take the route with the City so I can keep my PERS and 100 percent insurance,” he said.

He began his new work assignment in the Bridge and Drainage unit on Monday, May 21. 

“It has worked out for me,” he said. “And I’m off and running. That was the right choice for me, cause I got my PERS and I got my years in. If I had gone with the contractor, I couldn’t keep my PERS, and would have no benefits. If you go with the contractor, they’re going to pay you 50/50 on insurance and you’ve got to be there six months before they even acknowledge that.”

The 59-year-old Osgood said he didn’t like the strict take-it-or-leave-it way the option was presented to the career workers.

“What I’m saying is that it was a slap in the face of everybody who worked for the City the way they went about doing that. But at the same time, they gave you an option to go with the contractor. One contractor would give you a W-2 form every year, but he was paying you $19 an hour, where you were making $14.55 with the City. But we got 100 percent benefits with the City. And we get paid when it rains. With the contractor, you’re not going to get paid when it rains. But the bills keep on coming. They’re not stopping. Until you’re dead and gone you will have bills. 

“Water Maintenance was no longer Water Maintenance,” Osgood says Ted Henifin told him and the other City workers. “It’s expurgated. They expurgated the whole department.

“It’s called JXN Water now. It’s not the City of Jackson anymore. And they’re even moving the call-center to Pearl so they can collect the money.”

Arlyn Griffin likewise saw a better future in staying with the City’s system of benefits and insurance plans. As a crew leader in the water distribution maintenance unit, he felt a greater assurance working under the City’s authority than he would have had with the new contractor, whether it was Jacobs or Birdsong, one of the two lesser contractors.

 “I didn’t have any options,” Griffin said. “They wanted us to go with the contractors, and I have a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old. I value my benefits more than the money. We had a meeting with the company, Birdsong. Their rep couldn’t tell us nothing. And so, we left there. Everybody walked out. So that was one problem, and another, smaller company came and didn’t offer us any benefits. He didn’t take taxes out or anything. He’d just write you a check at the end of the week for your work. 

“I thought the new contractors were going to come in and lay new pipes,” Griffin said. “But they’re just doing what we were doing, patching up, like if a pipe burst we’d have to put clamps on them, or pull the pipe out and put a new pipe in and put a sleeve on it. They’re doing the exact same thing we were doing. No different. But he’s paying them way more for their service.”

Griffin opted for the security of the future rather than the higher wage that he would have gotten from the contractor. 

“I went to the Paved Streets Division,” he said. “My first day was Monday, and I enjoyed it. And I learned a lot about patching asphalt and different stuff, and I’m learning how to work the machine.”


“Henifin’s plan was something we could have stood against,” Scott said. “But sometimes you have to pick your battles, and maybe it was something we should have done. But the whole systemic breakdown of the water system is an issue that should have been addressed years ago. 

“I have not had a one-on-one with Henifin, but I have had one with the City’s administration. My major concern at the time that the third-party administrator came in was the future of our workers. The water department would be the area that would be impacted the most. And those workers would have the option of having a position with the third party. But if they chose not to, then they would have a position in another City department A lot of those workers were seriously concerned about PERS.” 

Scott says that she talked with the mayor on May 11. They had all met with workers and the Third Party Administrator, and someone from the Civil Service as well as the City Administration.

“Those workers who wanted to stay with the City were given the opportunity to do so. There were some from Bridge and Drainage, Land Fill, Street Paving, and the Engineering Dept,” Scott said. “They honored their commitment. A little less than ten out of 20 or so in the Water Maintenance area did not want to go with the private contractors, and preferred to be placed in other areas of city government in areas that are not foreign to them. They were very happy about it. And they began working their new jobs on Monday, May 21.

“I wasn’t at the meeting, but they’ve all said they are happy that they are able to stay with the City and that nothing is interrupted.” 

It hasn’t all been a bed of roses with Henifin and JXN Water during the month of May. He reported on May 1, that he doesn’t have enough money to cover his expenses. He is still waiting for a sizeable portion of the $600 million promised him to pay the bills for developing Jackson’s water system. 

“I don’t want to get into the same situation that Jackson has been known for, that is, being very slow or not paying at all.” 

Henifin says he called Washington about the problem, and they are listening.

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Labor leader Scott says some Jackson water employees prefer to remain with City, union

By Earnest McBride
May 29, 2023