Central Maine Power Workers Vote IBEW
March 7, 2006
After a unit of workers at Central Maine Power (CMP) voted 33 to 17 for IBEW representation in January, Manchester, Maine Local 1837 Business Manager Cynthia Phinney reflected on the unique qualities of the group, which included high-level professionals.
A greater percentage of the workforce attended meetings-- before and after the vote--than she was accustomed to as a former organizer. Even more remarkable, she says, was the number who said "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be sitting in a union meeting."
Local 1837 has represented 600 workers at CMP for several years. The members include meter readers, line workers, substation operators, clerical workers and customer service representatives in phone centers. Others had remained unorganized, feeling that a union wasn't needed for people in their positions at CMP.
In 2000, CMP, which serves 500,000 customers--nearly half the state's population-- merged with Energy East, based in Rochester, New York. Since then, as Energy East moved to boost profits, unorganized workers became concerned about the security of their jobs and benefits and began to consider the need for representation.
Last year, a small group of dispatchers organized. The latest unit comprises a mix of engineers, mailroom workers and energy service advisors who handle large accounts.
Members of the group contacted the local after management reduced their healthcare coverage by percentages greater than cuts imposed upon represented workers. Retiree benefits were trimmed and raises came late or not at all. The change which tipped the scales toward organizing was management's elimination of banks of sick time that workers had accumulated during their tenure at the utility.
Most of the workers said that their managers made a sincere effort to change things, but had lost influence and control to Energy East. One-on-one meetings were held with workers to advise them not to vote for the union. Captive audience meetings were held with high-level managers, including company president Sara Burns, attempting to discourage an IBEW victory by talking about strikes, union dues and obscure provisions in union bylaws. Workers were barraged with e-mails and fliers portraying unions as ineffective and self-serving, and suggesting that the company is better suited to look out for the interests of employees. But Energy East's tactics failed, as a majority of the workforce was solidly behind the union for the long haul.
Since the vote, Local 1837 has established committees to formulate proposals for first contract negotiations. The attendance at meetings--held to solicit issues from each department-- has been near 100 percent.
Phinney, now moving to form a negotiating committee, sees the vote at CMP as indicative of growing support for unions among professional groups such as physicians, computer programmers and graduate teaching assistants.
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