On Wednesday, members are scheduled to vote on the offer. Union leadership wants them to reject it. If that happens, the union could strike, or Pepco could declare a lockout. A work stoppage would be the second in the company’s 116-year history and the first since August 1985.
IBEW Local 1900 President James A. Griffin said he was not confident that a strike or a lockout can be avoided. “The only other time I felt like this was in 1985,” he said.
A strike would come at a bad time for Pepco, which serves 788,000 customers in Maryland and the District and has been criticized in recent years over its response to power outages. Employees and local officials have also faulted Pepco for employing too few senior linemen and too many less-capable contractors to fix utility equipment.
Pepco spokeswoman Myra Oppel said that a lockout “is not something we are considering.” She added that the offer is “fair and reasonable by any standard, especially in these difficult economic times.”
In 1985, the union’s 3,300 members walked out for five days after contract negotiations fell apart. At issue was the company’s resistance to giving more generous pay and benefits despite earning record profits at the time: $168 million in 1984. Workers picketed the 10 Pepco facilities for days.
Before the strike, Pepco had offered the workers raises of 13 percent over three years but increased deductibles for medical coverage to $325 from $150. Pepco and union leaders eventually agreed to a contract that offered increases of 18 to 30 percent over three years and pushed back the deductible increase by two years.
During the strike, Pepco had 1,800 management employees serve as replacement workers. Griffin said Pepco had problems handling outages at the time. In an e-mail to Montgomery County officials last week, a Pepco executive, Jerry Pasternak, said the company doesn’t want a strike but has trained “hundreds” of management employees in case it happens.
Oppel said the company also has more than 400 contractors ready to help in case a serious weather event occurs. It is unlikely that contractors will be summoned, as the weather this week is expected to be more or less tranquil.
To avoid a work stoppage, Pepco and union officials have extended the current contract, which was set to expire in May, at least four times, Griffin said. Although the extension ended last week, the contract is still in effect until one side says it wants the work stoppage, and that wouldn’t happen until after Wednesday’s vote.