Labor friction causes vulnerability

One of the most common misconceptions that can occur in a close-knit community during difficult times is that people can choose not to be impacted.

The recent labor strike at Penelec is unfortunate, first and foremost, because it pits our people against our people. There are no innocent bystanders. So no matter the outcome, everybody experiences some degree of loss.

As the chief executive officers of the Altoona-Blair County Development Corporation and the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, it is our responsibility to minimize the damage that occurs when our community becomes vulnerable.

That vulnerability can come in many forms. Most often, it arrives when community sentiment moves us away from the spirit of compatibility toward more fractious motivations. It erodes from within and compromises our ability to gain consensus and to maintain a high level of trust. It also creates health and safety concerns.

Vulnerability also tarnishes our reputation outside the community. As economic developers, we cannot expect site selectors to recommend that businesses locate in a community with high profile labor issues.

We cannot expect businesses located here to profess loyalty or to invest in growth projects when the local labor climate is unsettled.

The situation at Penelec needs to be resolved expeditiously so that whatever restorative measures that need to take place can be set in motion.

Negotiations need to take on a greater sense of urgency. In the case of the Penelec lockout, employees need to have an opportunity to vote on the company’s proposal.

Altoona and Blair County have faced a variety of challenges during the past few years that would have brought lesser communities to their knees.

Altoona’s initiation into Act 47, however, is an indication that our local economy still remains on tenuous footing. Many employers struggle to sustain staffing levels due to compliance mandates, most notably pertaining to the Affordable Care Act.

We cannot afford to compound their problems by diminishing the value of the business environment in which they operate.

Penelec is an essential component of our Blair County economy. It is a generous contributor to our quality of life. It is an outstanding employer. Without it, we would feel a considerable void.

Penelec also has outstanding employees. The work ethic of those employees is well-documented. They, too, make our community a great place to live.

With so much in common, how much does each side lose – how much do we all lose – before we recognize that we’ve lost too much?

Marasco is the president and CEO of the Altoona-Blair County Development Corporation. Hurd is the president and CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.