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US Utility Workers protest CEO’s pay

23 May, 2013Some 300 angry union members of the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and their allies within the West Virginia AFL-CIO protested outside the Annual General Meeting of FirstEnergy, the US’s third largest electric power company.

The 21 May demonstration in Morgantown, West Virginia, signalled both worker and community discontent toward the firm’s contemptible executive pay practices at the same time it attempts to extract concessions from workers and set in place slower response times for electric consumers.

The UWUA represents some 3,800 workers at FirstEnergy, a privatized utility serving 6 million customers in five US states. The company is an amalgamation of some 10 regional power companies over the last dozen or so years, and its corporate strategy as it bargains with UWUA has been to reduce work and living standards to the very lowest possible, across the board.

Last year, FirstEnergy’s board of directors awarded CEO Tony Alexander a total compensation package of US$ 23.3 million, 27% more than the US$18.3 million he took in 2011 even though corporate revenue and earnings sharply declined. FirstEnergy relies primarily on coal-fired generation units although it does operate 3 nuclear facilities.

UWUA’s eight branch unions have committed to one another to block the company’s plunge to the bottom strategy as it bargains co-ordinately in separate collective agreements over the next few years. Tuesday’s demonstration was accompanied by a handful of trade union resolutions inside the company’s meeting calling on FirstEnergy and its managers to curb executive greed.

UWUA System Local 102 is currently bargaining with FirstEnergy at the former Allegheny Energy complex of companies, a 2011 addition to the Akron, Ohio-based firm that expanded FirstEnergy by a third. Besides seeking work-rule and benefits concessions to the detriment of 1,000 union members, company negotiators want elimination of a consumer-friendly “customer service” clause in Local 102’s contract that would result in longer delays for workers to respond to emergency service restorations.

The UWUA did win a US$1.25 million backpay settlement from FirstEnergy for 150 power plants workers in Harrison, West Virginia. The award came after the company was found in violation of the US National Labor Relations Act, following a successful organizing drive at the power plant. FirstEnergy and UWUA Local 304 are now in talks for a first collective agreement there, while Local 180 in Pennsylvania now begins negotiations with the company in a union strategy aimed at coordination of all bargaining.

UWUA’s ballot initiative at FirstEnergy’s annual meeting was showcased as part of the AFL-CIO’s Executive PayWatch.