IL Union Strikes, Power Plants Say Business as Usual

Midwest Generation reported last Thursday that operations were running normally at its Illinois power plants in the wake of a strike by union employees, who rejected a pay increase and demanded contract provisions that Midwest said would compromise the company's ability to operate and maintain its facilities.

"We are operating these plants and continuing to supply electricity to ComEd under our power purchase agreement with the utility," said Georgia Nelson, president of Midwest Generation. "We are running the plants with trained and experienced management and supervisory personnel, many of whom come from the ranks of our plant operations. Critical operations are being staffed at near-normal levels."

Chicago-based Midwest Generation purchased 12 fossil-fuel generating facilities from ComEd in December 1999. The independent power producer is a major supplier of electricity to ComEd, along with the nuclear plants owned by the utility's parent company, Exelon, and other sources of power in the Midwest.

The Local 15 union, which represents more than 1,100 employees at Midwest Generation's facilities in Illinois, warned that its members would walk off the job early last Thursday if the company did not agree to its demands. The demands were not met, so the employees went on strike.

Midwest said contract talks ended late last Wednesday without any substantial movement toward a new collective bargaining agreement. No new talks were scheduled as of Friday.

Several of the provisions, Midwest said, would penalize the company for using contractors from other unions to perform duties that are outside the scope of work performed by Local 15. One of the union's proposals would allow employees to refuse to work alongside an outside contractor -- even a member of another union. Others would require the company to pay union members a full day of overtime if the company shipped out a piece of damaged equipment for warranty repair work, or when a manufacturer's service representative is on-site, Midwest said.

"We are not reducing union jobs. We are not proposing to reduce union jobs. In fact, we anticipate that the number of jobs represented by Local 15 will continue to grow as the company's business expands," said Nelson. She noted that Midwest Generation has hired an additional 150 Local 15 members since acquiring the plants.

"If the union strikes, it will not be about money," Nelson said. "We have offered solid, competitive wage increases. It won't be about benefits, because benefits must stay in place for another year. It won't be about job security because we are hiring employees and have no intention or proposal to reduce our union workforce. A strike will be about this: a union failing to recognize that it no longer works in a utility environment, but in a competitive marketplace."

Despite the fact that the union has shown no inclination to compromise, Nelson said the company is willing to continue working with a federal mediator.

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