FirstEnergy could owe millions in back wages to Bruce Mansfield union workers

Beaver County Times
Jared Stonesifer

SHIPPINGPORT -- FirstEnergy Corp. could soon be forced to pay millions of dollars in back wages to about 230 union workers at the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant, the union president said Tuesday.

Herman Marshman, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 272, said an administrative judge in Pittsburgh has ruled against FirstEnergy regarding two cases brought against the company by the union.

The National Labor Relations Board had previously ruled against the company, but FirstEnergy appealed that decision to an administrative judge. After that judge also ruled against the company last week, FirstEnergy can again appeal the decision or enter into a settlement phase with the union.

If FirstEnergy chooses to settle, Marshman said it could be for as much as $3 million. If the company decides to again appeal the decision, Marshman said it could go as high as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The cases go back to a time when the two sides were negotiating a new contract in late 2015.

According to NLRB documents, FirstEnergy implemented “certain proposals, including the elimination of retiree health benefits, but not its proposed increases to wages” in late 2015. The company allegedly told the union that new wages would be effective “only upon contract ratification.”

So essentially, Marshman said, FirstEnergy implemented cuts to retiree health benefits without also implementing proposed wage increases.

In addition to the contract debate, the union also filed charges against FirstEnergy alleging the company brought in contractors to perform maintenance work usually undertaken by the union. Marshman previously said he considered that practice a form of “union busting.”

The NLRB and the administrative judge both sided with the union, saying FirstEnergy engaged in unfair business practices against the IBEW Local 272.

As part of the final decision, the administrative judge ruled FirstEnergy must “make employees whole, with interest, for any loss of earnings” either from the subcontracting work or from the contract negotiations.

The ruling affects all current employees but also hundreds of retirees who had their benefits altered in late 2015.

Marshman said the amount of the settlement could be as much as $3 million because the company could be forced to pay back wages as far back as October 2015.

He also said the company could have paid much less than that, but lawyers for FirstEnergy balked at a proposal by the union to pay $7,500 per employee. Marshman added that he thought the company’s lawyers handled the situation improperly after the original NLRB decision was handed down.

“The company offered to pay $100 per employee to settle it,” he said. “I really couldn’t believe they would insult us in front of the federal government and put themselves in that position.”

The union then countered with the $7,500 per employee limit, which the company flatly refused. That’s when the matter was sent to the administrative judge.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Walton said Monday that the company “disagrees with the board’s decision and is evaluating potential next steps.”

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