Union Reps, Workers Hope Federal Mediator Helps End Lockout

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — United Gas Workers Local 69 President Craig Bradford remains hopeful that the presence of a federal mediator can help restart negotiations with Dominion and bring a speedy end to the lock-out of more than 900 employees across six states.

“We’re coming to bargain,” Bradford said on the Thursday edition of the MetroNews-affiliated “The Mike Queen Show” on the AJR News Network. “We want a contract. Our people want a contract.”

Bradford said Dominion had been spinning the tentative agreement reached late in August as a betrayal by the Union. Bradford said that agreement never went to a full vote among Union members because it didn’t make it out of representative committees.

“That has to go through a bi-law process, which requires us to take it out for a recommendation from our Executive Board and our representative council,” he said. “If it does not make it through that process, the actual membership gets the opportunity to ratify and vote on a contract.”

Bradford said the 50-person representative council overwhelmingly opposed the tentative agreement, which they claim seriously harms the pension and benefits of anyone hired after January 1.

“They are trying to destroy a new hired person’s pension” he said. “They are trying to destroy a new hired person’s ability to retire.”

The two sides had been negotiating since February and well past the expiration of the previous contract on April 1.

Bradford previously told MetroNews that a strike wasn’t an option for the Union.

However, Jeff Murphy, VP and General Manager of Dominion Hope, said the uncertainty couldn’t last much longer without effecting the company’s efforts during the upcoming winter months.

“One of the major reasons is the fact that our biggest commitment to our customers is to provide safe and reliable service,” Murphy said on “The Mike Queen Show” Thursday morning. “One of our major concerns was that if we didn’t do something soon that we might find ourselves in a position of having a strike or other work stoppage in the middle of winter when, of course, customers need us most.”

Murphy disagreed with Bradford’s take on the pension and benefit issue for future employees–saying that the company was trying to take a proactive stance towards employees that don’t like to settle at one job for their entire life anymore.

“One of the things that we see with a lot of newer employees is the importance of that ‘portability,'” Murphy said. “It used to be, of course, that employees would stay for, in many cases, decades. No we find employees really looking at–especially those younger ones–the possibility of moving on elsewhere. That portability around that 401k is something that we found very, very important.”

Union workers are out protesting the lock-out at a variety of sites across the state and country–including several sites in Harrison County.

“I came out today to support the ‘book ends’ as the company calls it,” Retired Dominion employee Paul Williams, of Bridgeport, said Thursday morning outside of a Dominion site near Old Bridgeport Hill. “The book ends being the future, new hires that will replace the guys out here working today and the people that have retired like myself.”

Williams, who spent 27 years with Dominion, and about 20 other Union employees and family members were holding up signs outside of the Dominion building. He said an attack on future benefits is an attack on the benefits of everyone.

Additionally, Williams said that the longer the lock-out lasts, the worse it is for the people of West Virginia who actually live and work here.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that the scabs that the company is going to bring in don’t represent West Virginia’s interest,” Williams said. “They don’t represent the people of the community. They’ll be here today and gone tomorrow.”

Another protester, who did not wish to provide a formal statement or interview, told MetroNews that replacement workers would get a “very light crash course” that wouldn’t adequately prepare them for working in the field–a complaint at odds with Jeff Murphy’s stance.

“We’ve taken a lot of precautions, contingency plans and otherwise to make sure we continue to provide reliable service to our customers,” Murphy said. “We have management personnel, temporary workers all qualified to do the tasks that are needed to make sure we can operate the system safely.”

Similarly, the wife of a retired Union member said that many family’s relied solely on the benefits that the Union and Dominion had negotiated.

The meeting between Dominion, Union reps, and the federal mediator was scheduled to begin at noon.