Union workers at a FirstEnergy Corp. facility in Pennsylvania face a lockout Monday if a proposed contract is not ratified by Sunday.
The Utility Workers of America Local 180, which represents 142 workers in the Akron-based company’s utility called Penelec, have been without a contract since Aug. 31. Negotiations began last May.
The union represents Penelec line and substation workers, meter readers and technicians, and other employees serving the areas of Altoona, Huntingdon, Lewistown and Shippensburg.
The company says it is not asking for major changes and made what it called its last, best offer that included an 8 percent raise over three years. The union says the company wants to stop payments toward retiree health benefits, which would affect 55 workers, and institute a new scheduling program that it opposes.
Bob Whalen, president of UWUA System Local 102, of which Local 180 is a branch, said he believes the company is intentionally putting pressure on Local 180 to affect ongoing negotiations with the larger Local 102, which has about 775 workers.
“I think they’re trying to bait Local 102 to go out on a sympathy strike because of what they’re doing to [Local] 180. The day we do that, they’ll bring [Local] 180 back to work and leave 102 unemployed. That’s just speculation.”
Union members do not understand why the company is willing to allow employees to collect unemployment compensation during a lockout instead of pushing the employees to a strike, he said.
The union believed it was nowhere near an impasse or a strike, Whalen said.
“This is all Akron doing this, not the local folks. We were getting pretty close at the table,” he said.
Todd Schneider, FirstEnergy spokesman, said the company “remains committed to resolving this situation.”
“We’ve been trying to negotiate a contract for many months; it’s time for them to make a decision,” Schneider said.
The company has given the union until 6 p.m. Sunday to ratify the contract, or the workers will be locked out Monday morning at 7 a.m.
Whalen said the union held a meeting and members were told the details and given no opinion by leaders. The membership did not want to vote on the proposal and sent the negotiating team back to the table. “We are still reviewing it,” he said.
On Thursday morning, Whalen said he was called by FirstEnergy for a last-minute negotiation. No information was available from the meeting Thursday afternoon.
If the lockout occurs, “Plans are in place to have management workers perform union members’ duties,” Schneider said. “We encourage the union to vote and ratify the last, best, final offer.”