- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

About 3,700 workers for Dominion Resources Inc. went on strike yesterday afternoon, starting the first labor action against Virginia largest power company since 1964.

The Local 50 group of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents line repairmen, power-station operators and electricians, said it is willing to continue negotiations despite the strike.

"There are millions of dollars and people's retirement at stake, but we are willing to talk," said Brad Stevens, senior business representative for the IBEW.

The union ended eight months of negotiations with Dominion and announced plans to strike July 25 after rejecting the company's final offer.

Dominion doesn't expect the strike to affect power delivery to its 2.1 million customers in Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia, spokesman Dan Genest said. "We are taking this [strike] very seriously and customers shouldn't see any changes in their day-to-day electricity."

Dominion will bring in substitute workers, Mr. Genest said. In the event of heavy storms or emergency situations, Dominion is prepared to use other utility companies and contractors.

But Mr. Stevens said the walkout of workers who are line repairers, power-station operators, technicians, electricians and power-distribution employees will leave Dominion operating on "bare bones."

"This is going to set [Dominion] back because our guys are trained professionals and they won't be there to distribute power to homes," he said.

The union's main problems with the contract offer include changes in retirement pension plans and retroactive pay, Mr. Stevens said. "This is not about bargaining over wage increases and, in truth, the medical package has improved from these negotiations."

Mr. Stevens said Dominion's last offer would terminate permanent disability insurance, remove a previously offered profit-sharing plan worth up to $15 million for union workers, and decrease retirement packages.

He also said the proposed wage increase would be 15.5 percent instead of 16.5 percent that the company said was offered in the contract.

The last contract offered a 16.5 percent wage increase over five years with other pension and medical benefits, Mr. Genest said, not commenting on specific issues in the medical and retirement plans.

"We feel our offer was fair, reasonable and very similar to what our other 14,000 employees have," Mr. Genest said. "However, we are willing to negotiate and get these workers back at their jobs as soon as possible."

The strike could last for weeks, Mr. Stevens said, adding that Local 50 is surprised by Dominion's offer to restart negotiations. "I'm angered and amazed that [Dominion] would say that they still want to negotiate when their chief negotiator said, 'We're finished, we're done, that's all there is.'"

The company and Local 50 began in January trying to draft a contract to succeed a three-year agreement that was ratified in 1995. Last week, the IBEW ended the agreement and notified Dominion that workers would go on strike if negotiations ended. Workers had voted 9-1 for the strike after reviewing the final offer.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission, which oversees utilities, said it will not get involved with Dominion's conflict as long as the company continues to provide service.

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