Employees at Dominion Transmission’s E. M. Borger natural gas transmission station in Dryden say they’ve been locked out of their jobs by the company after Dominion and United Gas Workers Union Local 69 couldn’t come to terms on a new contract.
UGWU Local 69 calls the lockout of 950 union members across six states an illegal action on the company’s part. About a dozen staff at the Dryden facility, located on Ellis Hollow Creek Road east of Ithaca, are affected by the lockout.
According to CBS News, UGWU Local 69 members have been working under the terms of an expired contract since April 1st, as negotiations on a new contract broke down. Union members in Dryden say they started receiving phone calls at about 2am on Wednesday informing them that they weren’t to come to work. The company has designated a space outside the facility’s fence where they can gather and demonstrate.
Union members at the Dryden facility today say UGWU Local 69’s proposed contract asks for no changes over the old contract other than annual cost-of-living wage increases. They take issue with Dominion’s plan to retroactively eliminate retirement benefits for workers who retired under an old contract, and use some $300 million of overfunding in a pension account for non-pension uses.
Dominion insists they informed union staff “that they will not be able to work until a new labor contract is reached” because Local 69 “refused to take a tentative contract agreement to union members for a vote.” They say the lockout is “to ensure customers’ continued safe and reliable service.”
Both Dominion and UGWU Local 69 agree that one of the sticking points in the contract negotiation is the company’s proposal to offer different retirement benefits to employees hired on or after January 1, 2017 than to employees hired prior to that date.
According to Dominion, “Employees hired on or after January 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.” A UGWU press release says, “The Union told the Company that it could not agree to that because it would create a 2 tier system within our bargaining group.”
Dominion Transmission and Dominion Hope, the affected businesses operating in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, New York, and Virginia, are subsidiaries of Dominion, which has nearly a trillion cubic feet of natural gas storage capacity, 12,200 miles of natural gas transmission lines, and more than five million customers in 14 states.
In the Ithaca area, Dominion’s pipeline through Dryden was built about fifty years ago. In addition to carrying natural gas through the area to other regions in the northeastern U.S., the company’s gas transmission lines serve New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) and Cornell University. Union staff at the Borger station this morning say the company’s action has left the facility operating without the staff that monitor it and perform maintenance tasks to keep it safe.
A telephone number listed for Dominion’s E. M. Borger station was not answered on Thursday morning.