Public Utilities Reports

PUR Guide 2012 Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!
PUR Guide

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

The Union Label: Electric Restructuring's Hidden Side

Fortnightly Magazine - September 15 1997

job protection model to their legislators, says James Keller, UWUA v.p. and Ohio-area regional director. There are about 5,500 union workers at the state's four investor-owned utilities. Over the last six years, Keller estimates 2,500 employees have left through early retirement, severance and layoffs.

The UWU planned a "deregulation summit" in Columbus late last month (em duplicating one in Washington, D.C., in June (em so that union reps could lobby state legislators. As many as half a dozen union reps have testified before the Joint Committee on Electric Utility Deregulation about stranded employee costs.

Priscilla D. Mead, Republican co-chair of the Joint Committee, says the panel was preparing a report, expected in early October, that should lead to legislation. One of her concerns about employee protections is that packages tailored to exiting employees should not be so enticing as to decimate the workforce.

She says her state suffered in telecom when Ameritech Corp. offered an early retirement plan to cut costs. "They had such a stupendous response that they have suffered a severe service problem. ... Their seasoned people chose to retire early and it left the system very vulnerable in the service area."

The Ohio Public Utilities Commission was trying to resolve those complaints.

Two of the utilities that operate in Ohio, American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Cinergy Corp., don't appear as ready as politicians or unions to tackle job protection issues in legislation.

"We're not in favor of any legislative approach," says AEP representative Pat Hemlepp. "We do have a collective bargaining system in place. We're in constant talks with our union employees and this is something that should be addressed at the bargaining table."

Hemlepp, whose company claims 8,325 Ohio employees and has reduced 1,200 jobs company-wide since 1995, adds some caveats. "We're not opposed to limited and specific provisions in any deregulation legislation that would take into account retraining employees, if their job is eliminated because of changes necessary to compete in the deregulated environment," he says. "But we do believe the creation of new jobs and other employment opportunities through deregulation could reduce the need for these sorts of programs."

Meanwhile, at Cinergy, spokesperson Steve Brash says it's the first time he has heard of worker protections brought up in the context of legislation: "We have not taken any position in any of the discussions that we've had on legislative or regulatory issues on matters involving employee protection."

Who's Next?

Wisconsin could mark the next locus of worker protection controversy. A bill related to worker protection during mergers was making its way through the Legislature (see sidebar).

The state boasts low-cost electricity. Its electric industry includes large investor-owned utilities anxious to compete in other states, plus a small investor-owned utility, rural electric co-operatives and municipal utilities. The IBEW, to some degree, sits in the middle, with workers in all those entities (em groups that have divergent opinions on restructuring.

But that may be just one more union problem on the way to winning worker protections.

Union officials confided privately that they all must put aside turf