Union Workers Will Reject CL&P Offer, But No Strike ... Yet


On Thursday and Friday, nearly 1,200 members of two unions for CL&P are set to vote on the company's latest offer, and it's nearly certain the workers will reject the pact.

That means a strike by linemen and others could happen any time after the vote count Friday evening. The good news: IBEW won't call for a walkout before heading back to the bargaining table, one of the union chiefs said Wednesday.

The issue is not pay — linemen are well compensated, with an average base wage of $38 an hour. Rather, they say the company, a unit of Hartford-based Northeast Utilities, is not hiring enough new people and is seeking unfair changes in work rules.

"It's going to go down in flames. Our members are very angry, they are extremely angry," said Frank Cirillo, business manager of IBEW Local 420.

The latest slight, he said, is a provision in the company's offer that would allow CL&P to change job descriptions after six months. The union also wants state regulators to order higher staffing levels.

Company officials say they are seeking more flexibility to respond to emergencies, including creation of a second shift for linemen. Spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman said the union's work rules — some of which are not part of the current contract talks — are unreasonable.

I said in a column Sept. 14 that CL&P needs to hire more than the 30 additional workers it's offering to add, and that both sides need to bring in a mediator over the historic work rules, which are impossibly hard to sort out from a bargaining table.

The last contract expired June 1.

"We have a well-rehearsed contingency plan in case of a strike, but are hopeful that we'll be able to reach an agreement," Pretyman said Wednesday.

So, at least we'll see another round of talks before we head into high fall with our electrical system compromised. We saw how that worked out last year.

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