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In 1999, the Akron Public Utilities Bureau (APUB) had the highest water and sewer rates for cities of its size in Ohio. Debt service was high and getting higher. The Mayor challenged APUB to streamline operations and fix the rates.

APUB is fixing its financial crisis, in part, by developing a new work environment, a new model for a cooperative relationship between management and labor—a transformation that has helped reduce costs while improving productivity and morale.

Two years into its Competitive Action Program, APUB has already saved almost 8 million toward its five-year goal of 10 million. Much of this remarkable success is attributed to six major workforce strategies used to transform the utility:

establish labor-management partnership based on the belief that a new, positive work environment can be created if everyone works together to achieve the common goal of becoming a best-in-class utility

develop a new participation model that includes employees, unions, and management, with a goal of having at least 70 percent of all APUB employees and management involved in redesigning new work practices

reduce resistance to change by establishing an aggressive communications program called Tool Box Talks, regular informal meetings to share information and provide an opportunity for two-way communications—information is presented and staff asks questions

change the organization from a hierarchy to teams; teams have been trained and certified in multiple areas and they are empowered to make decisions such as scheduling work, setting team goals, and evaluating performance

provide extensive training for employees and for team leaders; all teams receive training on how to work in a team, and Team Leaders receive training on leading teams

pilot new work practices and implement quick wins; the objective of the new work practices is to test the designs and put employees closer to the work; quick wins (best work practices that can be implemented in 30 days or less) have saved 350,000 in the past two years

APUB includes water and wastewater treatment, water distribution, sewer maintenance, and billing and collection. Surface water is taken from the Upper Cuyahoga River via three reservoirs, and pumped to 80,000 homes in Akron and surrounding communities.

Soon after the 1999 mandate, APUB began its Competitive Action Program, redesigning the entire utility including water and wastewater treatment plants, water distribution, sewer collection, customer service, and engineering.

Today, water and sewer rates are stable. APUB has made great progress in improving the service delivered to the customers. Over half of all employees have already participated in the program, and the goal is to increase that participation to 70–80 percent.

This presentation looks at the six steps that played a key roll in the transition, and shows how they can be applied to any utility regardless of size.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864702785301295

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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