Carrying signs like "locked out by corporate greed," more than 100 Penelec workers and family members turned out in frigid morning weather Saturday to picket outside Penelec offices along Plank Road.
With a lockout of 140 line, substation, clerk and meter services employees set to enter its third week, UWUA President Bob Whalen said Saturday's "family day" was a way to show how many people are impacted.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that our families support us and the kind of work we do every day," he said.
Mirror photos by Patrick?Waksmunski
Tara Benson (left) of Bellwood pickets in support of her father, Penelec emplyoee Mark Baughman (right), along with employee Steve Walker and his wife, Kelly, of Tyrone in front of the company offices along Plank Road on Saturday afternoon.
Husbands and wives have "had to learn to be self-sufficient," he said, while their spouses sometimes work 16-hour days, or miss birthdays and anniversaries.
"They're hurting our families. And they're hurting our communities," he said. "They think we're just a bunch of numbers."
FirstEnergy Corp., Penelec's parent company, kept the employees in the Altoona, Huntingdon, Lewistown and Shippensburg areas from reporting to work Nov. 25, after the union rejected the company's "last, best and final" contract offer the night before.
The contract offer included an 8-percent wage increase over three years and increases in shift premiums and meal allowances, as well as other operational improvements.
Despite the wage hike, union leaders said the company is attempting to hurt workers by stripping retiree health care benefits for Local 180, and changing the company pension plan to a "cash balance" contribution plan that would replace company liability.
FirstEnergy spokesman Scott Surgeoner said workers have known since 2009 that the company would be ending retiree health care benefits in December 2014.
"This is nothing new," he said, and the move will affect all FirstEnergy employees. "These employees at [Local] 180 are not being treated any differently."
Surgeoner also said the company respects the employees' right to picket, and the union is free to meet with company representatives whenever they want.
"We are willing to meet anytime, anywhere to discuss the contract we offered ... [but] we stand firm in that offer," he said.
He also said with starting wages for the lowest-class job at "well over" $24 per hour, the company believes it's being fair to employees and will not change the contract.
"The way for this to end is for those employees to ratify that contract offer," he said.
But workers and their families said they're not budging, and they believe the community stands behind them.
Tara Benson, 24, of Bellwood stood at the edge of Plank Road as family day was winding down. Her sign read "You'll be rich either way. Why not be fair?"
Benson said she was there to support her dad, Mark Baughman, who has been working for Penelec for 17 years.
His wife, Amy Baughman, was there as well, and even without a sign, she said she had a message for the corporation.
"I just want them to know that they're not only hurting their workers," she said.
And she, like many, said she believes the lockout taking effect the week of Thanksgiving was intentionally done to bully or intimidate workers.
"If they wanted to hurt them ... then congratulate them, because they succeeded," she said.