A total of 915 members of the United Gas Workers Union Local 69 (UGWU Local 69) have been locked out of work as of Wednesday, September 7th. According to Dominion in a news release, the union workers cannot return to work until a labor contract is agreed upon. The old labor contract ended on April 1st.
According to Dominion, UGWU Local 69 did not agree to vote on a tentative contract. The union said they would vote on the contract as stated in a memorandum agreement on August 26th.
In a letter dated September 7th, the UGWU Local 69 negotiating team denied agreeing to vote on the contract. The following is an excerpt from that letter, “The Union did not renege on the August 26, 2016 “tentative agreement”. That document came out of a meeting on August 26 in Cleveland with National Union representatives, the Local 69 President and 3 Company representatives. All that was agreed to was that the Local 69 President agreed to recommend to the Executive Board that it favorably consider the “tentative agreement” but the Company was clearly told that the Union’s bylaws had to be followed. Pat Branch, the Company chief negotiator, admitted more than once that he was told this. He knew that the Representative Council had to vote on the agreement and no promise was made to the Company as to how the Executive Board or Representative Council would vote. In fact, it is improper and probably illegal to make that promise to the Company.”
Within the tentative agreement is an almost 11% base pay raise over a four year period. In addition, every current employee would get company-paid retiree health benefits and pension. Retirees that qualify for Medicare would get a stipend to purchase more coverage. Employees who are hired on or after January 1st, 2017, would not get retiree medical benefits. Existing employees would keep traditional pension coverage. New employees would receive a cash balance pension plan as well as an improved 401(k) plan to safeguard them should they work for another company in the future. Over 3,000 workers who belong to a union and non-union employees that work for Dominion Hope, DTI, and Dominion’s other affiliates already receive these benefits. Local 69 employees who have been working for Dominion who have a base pay average of $62,000 annually and overtime, as well as new hires, would get a comprehensive benefits package. The benefits package includes a maximum of 6 weeks of paid vacation per year and 12 paid holidays and dental, medical, and vision coverage.
According to UGWU Local 69 in its letter, Dominion “wanted to deprive new hires of medical insurance when they retired.” The union said that was something they could not agree with as “it would create a 2 tier system within [their] bargaining group.”
Vice president & general manager for Dominion Hope Jeff Murphy and Vice president–Pipeline Operations for Dominion Transmission Brian Sheppard issued the following statement ensuring customers’ safety, “Our top priority is to safely and reliably meet the energy needs of our customers… Given the actions of the union leadership, we feel we have no other choice with the heating season approaching. The uncertainty of the labor situation could leave our customers literally out in the cold. We cannot let that happen, so our companies have had to make a very difficult decision. We are taking the steps necessary to ensure continued safe operations and reliable service.”
There are continuance-of-service plans in place so that important tasks are still being done. The 24-hour-monitoring of the systems is continuing. Customers who smell a gas odor should call Dominion Transmission at (888) 264-8240 or Dominion Hope at (800) 934-3187.
Sheppard and Murphy stated the following, “We want our customers to know that we will do everything in our power to make this event as seamless as possible for them… Some customer appointments may be rescheduled or delayed, but there will be no interruption of service, and all safety and reliability work will continue as usual. In addition, meter reading will be suspended during this period, but customers can submit their own meter readings by visiting dom.com and looking under Customer Service for more information.”
Sheppard and Murphy also said the following, “In the end, this is a question of fairness… Our employees certainly deserve a fair contract, and our customers deserve a contract that maintains a prudent and competitive cost structure. A lockout is not our preferred choice, but we have exhausted all other options to provide our customers and communities with safe and reliable natural gas service they expect and deserve.
“We respect our union-represented employees, and we value the long and mutually beneficial collective-bargaining relationship we’ve had with Local 69,” said Murphy and Sheppard. “Most of all, we want to agree on a contract that is fair to all parties, including our customers. In the meantime, we will be working 24/7 to serve our customers as we always have.”