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US Labor Relations Board complaint against FirstEnergy labour practices

05 May 2014
The U.S. National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint charging FirstEnergy Corp., its operating companies West Penn Power and Potomac Edison, and other FirstEnergy subsidiaries with a wide range of unfair labor practices during ongoing negotiations with the Utility Workers Union of America for a new labor agreement covering more than 700 workers throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia.

The complaint, issued by the NLRB regional office in Pittsburgh on April 25, charges that the companies illegally refused to bargain with the union over the effects of recent plant closures and transfers of bargaining unit positions; repudiated the collective bargaining agreement with UWUA System Local 102; failed to provide crucial bargaining data to the union during negotiations; and engaged in other acts of bad faith bargaining.
 
“This complaint represents another milestone in our efforts to win justice for utility workers at FirstEnergy,” declared Bob Whalen, president of UWUA System Local 102.  “The wide-ranging scope and the serious nature of violations charged in the complaint demonstrate that something is severely wrong with this company’s labor relations policies.”
 
Among other violations, the complaint charges that FirstEnergy refused to negotiate over the effects of its closure of two power plants in southwestern Pennsylvania last October, unless the union accepted a new contract imposing concessions on the entire four-state bargaining unit.  The company demanded the union accept the proposed cutbacks for the entire unit before management would engage in any meaningful bargaining over the effects of the closures on laid off workers, even though the UWUA contract was still in effect and not scheduled to expire until April 30, 2014.
 
Similarly, the complaint charges that FirstEnergy closed and then relocated a “mobile maintenance crew” covered by the UWUA contract from its existing location in Belle Vernon, Pa. to Weirton, W.Va., and refused to negotiate over the effects of the action unless the union accepted the company’s demands for mid-contract modifications to the entire agreement.
 
In both cases, the NLRB complaint seeks a Transmarine Navigation remedy, which would require the company to resume wage payments to the impacted employees from the time the company is ordered by the NLRB to negotiate over the effects of the unit closures until the parties reach an agreement or a good faith impasse in negotiations.
 
In addition, the complaint charges that FirstEnergy illegally recognized and signed a labor agreement with IBEW Local 2357 covering the mobile maintenance crew transferred to West Virginia, even though that union did not represent an “uncoerced majority” of employees and the maintenance unit has long been covered by the existing UWUA contract.  According to the complaint, FirstEnergy supervisors “threatened employees that they could not continue to work on the Mobile Maintenance crew unless the employees joined the IBEW.”
 
The complaint also charges FirstEnergy with the following additional unfair labor practices:

  • Repudiating the continuation of the parties’ “General Labor Agreement” on or about May 1, 2013, even though the contract by its terms had renewed for another year;
  • Repudiating the existence of long-standing provisions of the General Labor Agreement that establish the procedures for either terminating or extending the agreement; and
  • Failing and refusing to provide information relevant to negotiations over healthcare benefits.

The NLRB has currently scheduled a hearing on the complaint for July 22 in Pittsburgh.
 
Separate charges filed by the UWUA concerning bad faith bargaining by FirstEnergy at its Penelec utility in central Pennsylvania are still being investigated by the NLRB.  FirstEnergy recently ended a 20-week lockout of 142 Penelec employees covered by a separate labor agreement with the UWUA.
 
Despite the lockout, Penelec workers refused to accept management’s demands for concessions in employee benefits, working conditions, and customer service standards.  UWUA members at Penelec returned to work on April 14.
 
The UWUA and management are continuing negotiations for a new labor agreement at Penelec, as well as for a new General Labor Agreement covering workers at West Penn Power and Potomac Edison.  The complaint issued by the NLRB on April 25 is available from the UWUA upon request.
 
The UWUA represents 50,000 working men and women in the utility and related industries throughout the U.S., including 3,200 FirstEnergy employees in West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Maryland.

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