IBEW members are on strike against NHECBy MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader
May 07. 2018 8:48PM
More than 80 union members who work for the New Hampshire Electric Co-op went on strike Monday over pension and retirement issues.
“The company has activated a contingency plan that will provide for adequate coverage of power outages and protect public safety,” the Plymouth-based co-op said in a statement.
“Certified line crews have been engaged and will be accompanied on any outage calls by non-union NHEC employees who are familiar with the service territory,” the co-op said.
NHEC and Local 1837 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers broke off talks Monday to negotiate a new contract after the old one expired April 30.
The IBEW said it extended its previous contract until Monday “due to the company’s promise to bring something to this morning’s bargaining session with a substantial change that would make us happy.
“We can’t help but think this tactic was just a way to have our members around for this past weekend’s storms,” the union said on its website.
The company said it has requested the involvement of a federal mediator to restart contract talks. No new negotiating sessions are scheduled.
NHEC spokesman Seth Wheeler said the strike affects 83 employees, the majority of them line workers. The union said it represents about 85 employees there.
“Union and Company negotiators met this morning, but NHEC representatives refused to back off their demand that ... they have the unilateral right to modify or eliminate 401(k) or pension plans without first negotiating with the union,” the union said. “In other areas, the union previously agreed to almost all of the company’s proposals — including flexibility.”
The union said “the company’s continued insistence on this extreme proposal would make NHEC one of the only unionized electric utilities in the country to have such disastrous language affecting worker retirement plans.”
Union members voted 79-1 Thursday to reject the company’s contract offer and authorize the union’s negotiating team to call for a strike.
The company said the two sides had met 18 times in the past several months.
“The company has offered union members the same pension and 401(k) benefits that are currently offered to non-union employees, but the union rejected that offer last week because the company wanted to reserve the right to change the benefit in the future if it became necessary to change it for non-union employees,” the co-op said.
NHEC is a member-owned electric distribution cooperative serving 84,000 homes and businesses in 115 New Hampshire communities.