FirstEnergy charged with unfair labor practices

The National Labor Relations Board has charged Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and its utility companies with unfair labor practices associated with the closing of two power plants in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Acting on complaints from the Utility Workers Union of America Local 102, which represents 850 FirstEnergy employees across three states, the NLRB is alleging that FirstEnergy refused to talk about job placement, severance and other benefits for workers at Mitchell and Hatfield’s Ferry power plants unless the entire union signed a new contract that included concessions in benefits and other changes. The two coal-fired power plants closed in October.

“They held all them folks hostage to try to get a contract that effected everyone in our bargaining unit unfairly,” said Bob Whalen, president of Local 102.

FirstEnergy and the union have been discussing a contract that expires April 30, with the company seeking concessions like doing away with retiree healthcare, which now extends health benefits to former workers up to age 65.

“That’s a huge benefit,” Mr. Whalen said. “We’ve sacrificed wages along the way to get that.”

The company also wants to include a provision in the new contract that allows the company to amend or terminate benefits at any time, he said. That and other issues constitute several other charges filed by the NLRB against FirstEnergy in this case.

FirstEnergy declined to answer questions about the issue and instead issued a statement noting that the labor board’s charges don’t constitute a decision in the matter but rather defer to an administrative law judge. A hearing on this case is set for July 22 in Pittsburgh.

“We disagree with any allegation that we have not bargained in good faith with Local 102, and we are confident that the administrative and judicial processes will ultimately support our position,” spokesman Todd Meyers said in a statement.

“Keep in mind that any decision by (the judge) can be appealed to the full NLRB, and the board’s decision can be appealed to the federal Courts of Appeals,” he said.

FirstEnergy’s union negotiations got heated last year when it’s Pennsylvania utility Penelec locked out its workforce in Altoona on Thanksgiving day. The lockout lasted until April 8.

“That's a great way to destroy your workforce's morale,” Mr. Whalen said. “At the rate this company is going, not only have they destroyed the Altoona workforce but they’re doing that in other parts of the company.”

Anya Litvak:, 412-263-1455.

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