FirstEnergy Corp.’s lockout of 150 utility workers in central Pennsylvania has stirred up a hornet’s nest that CEO Anthony Alexander already regrets.
Throwing workers off their jobs right before the holidays has energized working families in four states and focused negative international attention on the nation’s largest investor-owned electric utility company. As a result, Alexander has made himself the poster child for what is wrong in our country today.
“Our members were exercising their legal right to collectively bargain, something FirstEnergy obviously does not respect,” Utility Workers (UWUA) President D. Michael Langford said Nov. 25, the day the company locked out UWUA Local 180 members employed by the company’s Penelec utility in central Pennsylvania.
“A company of this size, locking out a group of workers who are negotiating for fair wages, benefits and working conditions right before the holidays is unconscionable,” added Langford, who also noted that Alexander is “making $23 million a year shutting down plants, destroying communities, locking out workers and kicking them to the curb. All of this to benefit the one-percenters.”
The lockout has helped embolden more than 1,000 other union workers in UWUA System Local 102 to reject outrageous concession demands by FirstEnergy during negotiations for a separate union contract at the company’s West Penn Power and Potomac Edison subsidiaries in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.
UWUA members have taken the fight for fair contracts right to the company’s Akron, Ohio, headquarters and are turning up the heat by mobilizing affected families across the region.
Meanwhile, global union federations Public Services International and IndustriALL have weighed in, condemning “employer aggression against our joint affiliate UWUA.” In conjunction with the trade union campaign network LabourStart, the two global federations have launched a protest campaign against FirstEnergy and called on supporters to send emails to the company demanding an end to the lockout.
The BlueGreen Alliance, a U.S.-based alliance of unions and environmental organizations, also has entered the fray, calling on FirstEnergy to end the lockout.
The company locked out the line, substation, clerks and meter service workers at Penelec after they overwhelmingly rejected FirstEnergy demands to eliminate retiree health coverage, impose a two-tier pension system and rewrite job classifications that would cut pay and hurt customer service.
The lockout came only a month after FirstEnergy set a new low in corporate standards when it closed two coal-fired power plants in southwestern Pennsylvania, erasing 380 good jobs and refusing to help place the laid-off union workers into other jobs unless Local 102 agreed to huge concessions for 1,000 other employees throughout the four state region.
The local union rejected the company’s extortion tactic and is also mobilizing its members in support of the locked-out workers at Penelec.