Volunteer Fund Helps Furloughed Members in Montana


October 30, 2013

After a generator failed at a Montana coal-fired power plant on July 1, the operator, PPL Montana, announced that some members of Colstrip Local 1638 would later be placed on furlough for at least 90 days.


Furloughs were only two weeks off when members attending the local union’s September monthly meeting decided to come to the aid of brothers and sisters who would be eligible for state unemployment benefits, but might still have trouble meeting their household budgets.

“I think it was amazing how quickly these members stepped up to support co-workers in need,” says Business Manager Rex Rogers.

A list was compiled of all members, mostly junior workers, who would be scheduled off work.  Another list was solicited from members at the union meeting who would volunteer to pay the union dues of laid off members. A random drawing was conducted to match volunteers with their less fortunate co-workers.

“We had more volunteers than we had members needing help,” says Rogers, who posted a list of furloughed workers and their sponsors in the hall. The effort received front page coverage in the Independent Press of Rosebud County.  “It was brothers and sisters truly helping brothers and sisters,” says Rogers.

“Even though funds [for unemployed workers] can’t be filtered through the union, we are still part of the brotherhood,” a union member told the Independent Press. “Things are going to be pretty hard after three months of furlough, especially with Christmas coming.”

Union members have set up an account at a local bank and are asking local businesses to help sponsor a fund-raising event to help distribute solidarity funds to the unemployed members at the end of October and just before Christmas.

Rogers told the Billings Gazette that the layoffs were unprecedented. The local union, whose members all work in coal-fired power, had a clause in a prior contract that prohibited furloughs, but was forced to accept furloughs of 90 days or less in their last contract in May 2012.

PPL reported profits of $405 million in August.  Rogers told the Gazette, “They do see they can save money, All we see is their wage expenses will shift from PPL Corp. to the Montana State Unemployment Fund.”

 “It would be a shame if these savings left Montana and went back to Allentown, Pa. [PPL’s headquarters],” said a union press release.


Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user ambimb.