Energy West and union officials from locals 1769 and 2176 sat down at the table again for contract talks on Thursday.
Both sides continue to work toward a resolution as talks continue.
The union continues to contend that management is asking for drastic cuts in health care and pension benefits. It is also adamant about opposing the proposed cut of the safety committee from 14 union elected members to three that are company appointed.
Union spokesperson Brian Lee said that the mine used to be one of the best places to work, but “that has gone downhill fast” after Energy West was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway and became operated by MidAmerican Energy subsidiary. Berkshire Hathaway is a conglomerate run by billionaire Warren Buffet.
Despite what Energy West has publicly stated about safety being the top priority, Lee worries that the negotiations are headed in the same direction as what happened at a Pacific Power facility in Portland, Ore. last year. It was also under MidAmerican management. The plant laid off 84 workers last June.
The Portland local 659 filed a grievance, protesting the lay-offs. It says the company violated its obligation under union contract to not lay off its own workers while outside contractors remain employed.
The fear that union workers will be replaced by contract workers at Energy West is a core issue at the bargaining table. Management says it has to be able to hire contract workers in non-essential jobs to stay competitive and viable. Union members see it as a “union busting” tactic.
Energy West Spokesperson Maria O’Mara said there have been many proposals put on the table and the company is committed to a resolution that benefits the company, the union and customers.
“There is a lot of good work going on by both sides and we are not going to jeopardize ongoing negotiations by talking publicly,” she said.
She went on to say that it helps to keep things in perspective. Both sides have only been at the table since November and nothing has been voted on or rejected by the union at this time. The company has yet to receive a 60 day intent-to-strike notice from the union.
“We are very far from an impasse,” she added. “We have a very strong history of good outcomes.”
Despite ongoing talks, union members are taking their fight outside of the negotiation room. On Friday May 3, 52 miners, wives and retirees boarded a bus and headed to hold an informational picket at MidAmerican headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. Saturday, the group was outside the shareholder’s meeting for Berkshire Hathaway in Omaha, Neb. They were able to get four members inside to mingle with the crowd.
The group did submit a few questions to local press ahead of time. Those questions were asked during the open mic portion of the meeting. The questions were directed to Buffet and asked why he could endorse the slashing of healthcare benefits over corporate profits.
According to Ralph Keele, who was present, Buffet’s answer was non-committal. Keele also tried to speak directly to PacificCorp CEO Mike Dunn about the health issues, and again got very little in the way of an answer.