IBEW members vote to strike Pacific Power

Members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 125 voted Aug. 10 to reject a second tentative agreement with Pacific Power. They expect to go on strike or be locked out the day after Labor Day if no further agreement is reached before then.

Local 125 represents over 400 Pacific Power employees — linemen and other classifications — who work in a region that extends from Astoria, Oregon to Walla Walla, Washington.

Pacific Power serves over 700,000 customers as the electricity distribution division of PacifiCorp for Oregon, Washington and California. PacifiCorp is owned by Mid-American Energy Holdings Company, which is controlled by Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway’s primary shareholder is Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest people.

Pacific Power, a regulated monopoly, has a built-in rate of profit that is overseen by the Oregon Public Utility Commission. Yet the company is seeking concessions from its union workforce.

The tentative agreement Local 125 members voted to reject would have allowed the company to terminate its defined benefit pension plan, which had already been frozen. New hires are enrolled only in the company’s “defined contribution” 401(k) plan, but about 100 Local 125 members age 55 and older remain in the traditional pension. The agreement would also have taken away three days of family sick leave. It contained wage increases of 1, 1.5, and 2 percent, but the first increase was not retroactive.

The most recent contract expired Jan. 26, but was extended by mutual agreement. On July 8 the union negotiating committee gave 60-day notice of its intent to terminate. Thus the agreement’s last day will be Sept. 5, Labor Day 2011.

[UPDATE: Members ratified a new contract, averting a strike.]

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