PGE responds to union grievance with lawsuit

Members of Electrical Workers Local 125 put up informational picket lines at Portland General Electric facilities in the Portland metropolitan area May 31 to protest a lawsuit the company has filed against the union.

PGE is owned by Texas-based Enron Corp., which collapsed and filed for bankruptcy last year, leading thousands of employees to lose their life savings in 401(k) plans tied to the energy company's stock.

Employees, including those at PGE, were frozen out of their retirement accounts for months prior to the collapse while top executives liquidate millions of dollars worth of stock.

Enron is now under investigation by the Justice Department and Congress and its auditing firm, Arthur Anderson, is on trial on charges of obstruction of justice for shredding Enron documents while on notice of a federal investigation. Seven months ago, Local 125 filed a grievance hoping to get some recovery for workers under their collective bargaining agreement. In doing so the union requested financial information that it is entitled to under the National Labor Relations Act.

PGE stonewalled the grievance filing for months, to the point that Local 125 was forced to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

For the next week PGE continued its refusal to supply information. So, on May 20, the union threatened to pull workers off the job. The next day PGE came up with about 70 percent of the documents requested.

Local 125 immediately dropped its unfair labor practice complaint, but on May 23 PGE slapped the union and its membership with a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court in an effort to block the grievance request.

"Portland General Electric/Enron's actions are despicable and totally unjustified," said Local 125 Business Manager Bill Miller. "These are people who, even though many were wiped out by thievery, still kept the lights on for half of Oregon's residents. Instead of getting a pat on the back from management, they get sued."

Miller said the union didn't expect PGE to sit still on the grievance, but neither did it expect the company to file a lawsuit.

"This is a new low for the company," he said.

In the complaint, PGE maintains that the sides "have attempted to resolve the grievances, but have been unable to do so." The company further disputes the "arbitrability of the grievances," asserting that the proper forum is a court of law.

Miller said Local 125 has repeatedly made offers to the company that would make employees whole without causing major financial damage to PGE. All the attempts have failed.

"We will continue with the grievance and arbitration process with or without PGE's participation and ultimately will let the courts make the determination," said Miller.

Picket lines went up at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, May 31, at PGE offices at the World Trade Center downtown, at the PGE Service Center in Southeast Portland, and at its service center in Gresham.

June 7, 2002 issue

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