Five-Year Agreement Brings together Merged Utility Units in Vermont

February 22, 2013

Few words are as chilling to workers as “corporate merger.” Too often the aftermath is slashed jobs, cut wages and managers acting unreasonably.

With the Jan. 15 ratification of a new five-year contract, Montpelier, Vt., Local 300 and Green Mountain Power Corp. are showing that mergers don’t have to be winner-take-all, scorched-earth scenarios. They can even be healthy for customers and workers alike.

It wasn’t easy for Local 300, which represented workers at both Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and Green Mountain Power Corp., to harmonize the terms of two separate collective bargaining agreements and satisfy the needs of the members, the newly-merged corporate entity and the customers. But, says Business Manager Jeffrey Wimette:

We got a respectable agreement. No members lost their jobs; any work force reductions will be by attrition. We worked with the company to cover the time of 22 union members—11 from each side—who started meeting in March to understand each other’s agreements [and how they could be unified]. Then we met with the new company to build a unified agreement. Negotiations were lengthy, however, worth the effort.

In an article in the Rutland Herald, Mary Powell, Green Mountain Power president and CEO, said:

It is highly unusual that newly merged companies are able to combine union contracts and blend so quickly and effectively to form one strong working unit.

Speaking to the Herald, Wimette said:

Both sides acknowledged the importance of reaching a contract that benefited customers while honoring and respecting matters of importance to union employees.

GMP says the merger will save ratepayers $144 million over the next 10 years.

One collective bargaining agreement had been due to expire in December 2012, the other in December 2013. After the 22 union members completed their meetings, Wimette and the union’s negotiating committee met for 45 days, sometimes 12 to 16 hours a day, to hammer out the details of a new agreement.

The union took six days to hold informational meetings, covering workers on all shifts, to discuss the tentative agreement. The tentative proposal was voted down on the first vote and ratified on the second after some modifications.

Workers won a 3.25 percent increase in 2013, 3 percent for the second and third years and 2.8 percent for the final two years. Uniform work rules will be phased in. Agreement was also reached on uniform health insurance premiums.

Wimette says that the merger of some districts will require workers who are on call in emergencies to possibly move their places of residence in the future. The company will help defray the cost of their moves. While the new management entity will mix the two former work cultures, Wimette says he is confident that new, healthy labor-management relationships will arise.

“This merger demonstrates how the IBEW and management can work together when both sides are open and honest with each other,” says IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter.