FirstEnergy Corp.: Little progress made in contract talks
Officials from Penelec and its parent company, FirstEnergy Corp., said little progress has been made in contract negotiations with local union representatives and that both sides last met on Jan. 14.
Scott Wyman, Penelec regional president, said the current contract offer on the table is the “last, best and final offer” that Penelec leadership has for members of Utility Workers Union of America Local 180.
The current offer was presented to members of the union on Nov. 8.
About 140 UWUA members have been locked out by Penelec since Nov. 26. Discussions on a new contract began in May 2013.
“We’re convinced, without question, that this is a fair deal,” Wyman said in a sit-down meeting with the Mirror on Tuesday.
FirstEnergy spokesman Scott Surgeoner said that company officials have “heard and know” that a number of members of the union are interested in voting on the contract, which was previously rejected. He said union leadership is not allowing other members to do so.
Wyman said he is unsure if the contract would be approved if it were to come to a vote – it could go either way, he said – but said it is unfair that members
aren’t being given the chance to vote.
UWUA President Bob Whalen said in November that the union’s rejection of the contract was “overwhelming” and that it sends a “clear message” that members disagree with the elimination of retiree health coverage for employees.
Whalen and other officials for the union could not be reached Tuesday.
In a release on its website, UWUA also condemned FirstEnergy and Penelec for “an inferior pension plan for new hires, scheduling changes that will make it harder for utility crews to respond to emergency outages, and other reductions in customer service standards.”
“Despite modest pay raises offered, our members fully understand that cuts to pension and retiree medical benefits will have a lasting effect on their livelihoods and inside their communities,” Whalen said in the release.
Surgeoner noted that retiree health benefits are being eliminated for all employees at FirstEnergy companies. He, too, will be losing those benefits, he said.
“I don’t necessarily like it, but I understand it,” he said.
Wyman said the proposed contract will offer other positives for employees: an 8 percent raise spread out over three years and additional increases in shift and meal premiums. Surgeoner said seven other FirstEnergy unions have agreed to the same contract.
Wyman and Surgeoner also addressed concerns from local residents about increased costs on electric bills. UWUA members suggested that Penelec and FirstEnergy were not checking meters regularly due to staff shortages caused by the lockout, which both FirstEnergy officials denied.
“We pride ourselves on raising issues for consumers as well as workers; this is consistent with our track record,” Mark Brooks, special council to Whalen, said in a news release. “But we don’t want FirstEnergy to use the Penelec lockout as an excuse to not properly read customers’ meters.”
Surgeoner said that FirstEnergy read about 70 percent of its meters in January due to weather, which isn’t out of the ordinary at this time of year. Instead, he said increased electric costs relate to where the electricity is coming from. Penelec no longer runs its own power plants.
Residents have the option to choose who generates their electricity, he said. If they choose different sources, they run the risk of fluctuating rates, he said.
A price comparison is available at www.papowerswitch.com, Surgeoner said. He said anyone with questions about their electric bills should contact Penelec or their alternative supplier.