Dominion Transmission locks out union workers

Dominion (NYSE:D) unit Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) informed more than 900 union members in the East on Sept. 7 that they will not be allowed to work at the company until a new labor contract is reached.

The Dominion companies and the affected workforce have been without an agreement since the prior labor contract expired April 1.

The news was announced by Dominion Hope and Dominion Transmission. The move affects about 915 union-represented employees in West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia.

Dominion took the action after Local 69 of the Utility Workers Union of America, United Gas Workers refused to take a tentative contract agreement to union members for a vote. Local 69 previously had agreed to take the contract to a vote and support approval as part of a memorandum of agreement signed last month, Dominion said.

The tentative agreement signed last month by union leadership includes: a nearly 11% base pay raise over four years and company-paid pension and retiree health benefits for all current employees. This tentative agreement also gives Medicare-eligible retirees a stipend to buy additional coverage that best suits their needs rather than be forced into the existing one-size-fits-all plan. Employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2017 would not be eligible for retiree medical benefits. Current employees will maintain traditional pension coverage, while new hires will get a cash balance pension plan and an enhanced 401(k) savings plan that protects them if they change employers. These same benefits already apply to non-union employees at DTI and Dominion Hope, and other Dominion affiliates, including more than 3,000 other unionized workers. Current Local 69 employees, whose base pay now averages $62,000 a year plus overtime, and new hires, will also receive a benefits package that includes medical, dental and vision coverage and paid vacation of up to six weeks a year plus 12 paid holidays, Dominion said.

Dominion posted a copy of the Aug. 26 tentative agreement online. Local 69 said in an online posting that the Dominion Transmission letter was “full of errors and outright false statements.”

The union said it did not renege on the tentative agreement. “All that was agreed to was that the Local 69 President agreed to recommend to the Executive Board that it favorably consider the “tentative agreement” but the Company was clearly told that the Union’s bylaws had to be followed,” the union said in its Sept. 7 letter to members.

“Our top priority is to safely and reliably meet the energy needs of our customers,” said Jeff Murphy, vice president & general manager for Dominion Hope, and Brian Sheppard, vice president–Pipeline Operations for Dominion Transmission. “Given the actions of the union leadership, we feel we have no other choice with the heating season approaching.”

The companies have implemented continuance-of-service plans by augmenting supervisory and other non-union personnel with contractors and temporary workers trained to handle essential tasks. Emergency calls will be answered promptly, and the 24-hour monitoring of all systems will continue, Dominion said in a news release.

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Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at