Lockout ends with no winner

It is welcome news that FirstEnergy Corp.’s lockout of about 140 members of Utility Workers Union of America Local 180 finally will be ending.

The lockout, which has consumed 20 weeks, has been a thorn in the region’s labor front.

Many Altoona area residents sympathized with the workers who felt so dedicated to their cause that they were willing to picket in front of the local Penelec headquarters during this winter’s brutal conditions. At the same time, many other residents who are enduring pay freezes, cutbacks in benefits and increased difficulties in making ends meet, thanks in part to higher utility bills, have been sympathetic toward the company’s position.

It can be said that both the union and company received a black eye from the protracted situation.

The hope now must be that the union and company will work amicably toward reaching a contract settlement.

It’s often been said that the best contract is one about which neither side is totally happy, and that should apply to the agreement that eventually is hammered out regarding the workers in question.

Both sides must share the blame for what transpired – the workers, for unwillingness to accept some of the realities to which numerous other area workers have had to adjust and the company, for perhaps acting too quickly and radically by way of the lockout.

The company delivered a tough, costly message to the union and its membership, but its public-relations image won’t emerge unstained.

To people here who relish the labor peace that generally exists in this region, the FirstEnergy lockout and the now-settled contract dispute involving nurses at UPMC Altoona represented an unwanted start to 2014.

Regarding the utility workers dispute, it was troubling for many Mirror readers to have to open their newspapers to headlines such as “Penelec, union report no progress,” and “Penelec workers, family protest ‘corporate greed,,” and “Union files unfair labor charges,” and “Penelec lockout nears eighth week with no imminent end.”

Meanwhile, there was Penelec’s full-page open letter to customers that appeared in the Mirror, in which the utility explained its position, part of which was that “our objective has always been to arrive at an agreement that is fair to our employees, our customers and our company.”

Penelec customers will be watching for news about progress at achieving a new pact that has eluded the workers and company up to now. At the same time, those same customers will be watching with anxiety regarding how interruptions in their normal meter-reading during the lockout will impact their coming electric bills.

In Tuesday’s Mirror article reporting that the lockout would be ending, Penelec announced that “we are pleased that Local 180 employees will be returning to work and remain committed to resolving our issues.”

Although similarly upbeat that the workers would be returning to their jobs, the union in its statement was generally more negative, using the word “irresponsible” to describe the company’s lockout action and condemning “FirstEnergy’s attempt to circumvent good-faith bargaining.”

But the important thing now is that the thorn finally is being discarded and being replaced by a window for labor peace. We hope both sides make the most of this opportunity.