Union workers at a FirstEnergy Corp. facility in Pennsylvania voted Sunday to reject a proposed contract and a lockout will begin at 7 a.m. today.
Managers and supervisors will take over the duties formerly provided by the 142 union employees at Penelec who have been without a contract since Aug. 31, said Scott Surgeoner, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, an Akron-based company.
“Our commitment to our customers is to deliver the quality service they expect and deserve,” he said in a phone interview Sunday night.
Bob Whalen, president of Utility Workers of America System Local 102, which includes Local 180 that represents Penelec workers, said the union was willing to continue talks, despite employees turning down the contract. He said a lockout isn’t necessary and comes at a bad time, with the holidays approaching and potential bad weather on the horizon. An ice storm, dubbed Ice Force, that has pummeled the southwest part of the country is expected to head east during the next few days.
“It’s sad that a company like FirstEnergy would do this to customers and workers,” Whalen said in a phone interview.
The two sides began negotiating in 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.
The company gave the union until 6 p.m. Sunday to ratify the contract or said the lockout would begin this morning.
Whalen said union members overwhelmingly voted against the company’s proposal Sunday afternoon.
“It was huge,” he said. “This sends a clear message that we are fed up with the tactics to take away benefits.”
Whalen said the union is willing to resume talks anytime. He said he doesn’t understand what the benefit was to FirstEnergy to start a lockout when it will leave the company without experienced front-line employees who will collect unemployment benefits.
“They are putting customers in harm’s way,” he said.
Surgeoner, however, said many of the managers who will step in are former union employees and know how to get the job done. He also said the company is willing to sit down with the union and is hoping for a resolution to this dispute.
“The company is willing to meet anytime, anywhere,” he said. “We want an agreement that is fair to our employees, the company and our customers.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.