- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

Dominion Resources' workers are threatening to strike as soon as tomorrow, an attempt to pressure the Virginia power company to reach an accord on a contract for 37,000 employees.

The Local 50 union of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) gave Dominion a 72-hour notice of possible strike Tuesday, saying it will end the existing contract by Friday when a strike could begin.

Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said the company would keep running in the event of a strike.

He said the company has backup workers in addition to an agreement with neighboring utility companies for help in the event of severe storms. Dominion also has contractors on call for emergency situations.

"[Customers] should see no change in their day-to-day electricity needs if there is a strike." In extreme situations, Mr. Genest said. "It may take longer, but we will get the lights back on."

But Brad Wike, spokesman for Local 50, said customers would "see a glitch in their power." Virginia Power, a subsidiary of Dominion, provides electricity for 2.1 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina, including the Newport News shipyards, the Pentagon and several military bases.

"Our members are the linemen, the power-station operators, the meter readers, technicians and electricians who keep the systems delivering power going daily," Mr. Wike said. "There are going to be ramifications if there is a strike."

Mr. Wike said a strike is not likely, but the notice an agreement made earlier in negotiations between Local 50 and Dominion is being used as a "time ploy" to pressure Dominion for a resolution.

"It's being used because we are not going anywhere with the issues on the table," he said. The main issues involve retirement and medical-benefit plans.

IBEW wants workers to have a defined pension plan that would allow workers to know how much they would earn in 30 years instead of the shift to personal savings and a 401(k) preferred by Dominion, he said.

"The corporation wants to put the workers more in charge of their retirement," he said. "That might be fine for the corporate executives who don't have as much to lose, but these workers are at risk of losing their retirement like others have with the stock markets the way they are."

Mr. Genest wouldn't comment on issues being discussed with IBEW, but did say Dominion doesn't expect a strike.

"It would not be beneficial to either side to have a strike, and I don't think it will come to that," he said.

The notice doesn't necessarily mean a strike, both sides say.

Dominion would continue to honor a contract forged in 1995 as long as negotiations continued, Mr. Genest said. A federal mediator joined the talks July 9.

"Both sides do want to find a common ground to this," he said.

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, spokesman Ken Shrad said.

"Dominion Virginia Power has assured us they have a backup plan that if their rank and file walks they will keep the electrons running, and we believe them," he said.

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