Pa. Power Plant Workers Win IBEW Representation
August 21, 2008
Power plant workers at AES Ironwood in Lebanon, Pa., were feeling the squeeze. Their workload had doubled – some days tripled – due to a shortage of new hires. Promised performance bonuses never seemed to materialize and basic plant maintenance and upkeep was ignored, causing the more than a dozen employees to worry for their own safety.
It got too be too much for one AES employee who contacted the IBEW through its Web site in March. After meeting with Organizer Joe Sanna, the employee recruited some of his co-workers to form a volunteer organizing committee. In only a couple of months the committee won over the majority of the workforce.
After getting union cards signed, Reading Local 777 petitioned for an election. Despite management opposition, which included captive audience meetings, the employees won the election 11 to 2 in July, becoming the latest independent power producer to go union. “We prepped them on the all the anti-union arguments they would hear so they would be ready for those meetings,” Sanna said.
Independent power producers are privately held power generators that have sprung up in the United States in the last decade, prompted by deregulation.
Largely nonunion, such producers are beginning to experience some of the same difficulties that have already plagued the major utilities, such as aging equipment and lack of recruitment, causing many plant owners to increase their employees’ workload and cut back on wages and benefits.
“Most independent producers about five years behind where a lot of the traditional utilities are,” Sanna said. “Like the big power companies, they put off worrying about investing in their infrastructure or training and hiring a new workforce until problems started hitting them all at once.”
AES Ironwood is the IBEW’s eleventh utility win this year. The victory opens the door to further inroads in an area that is an increasingly ripe target for organizing, said Brian Ahakuelo, Director of Professional and Industrial Organizing. “Wins like this show how we can increase our density in the industry.”
In April, more than 50 workers at Trigen, a Philadelphia independent producer, gained IBEW representation after they were hit with higher medical deductibles and reduced wages and vacation.
“Utility locals need to take a look at IPPs in their area,” Sanna said. “They’re small operations, but it’s like building a wall, and each one organized is like another brick.”