CMP Workers Meet to Discuss Safety and Staffing Concerns

December 5, 2010 - With the impending layoff of dozens of CMP meter readers and the imminent early retirement of an unknown number of CMP workers age 55 and older, IBEW members met in Gardiner to discuss the impact on the Union and the Company in the weeks and months ahead.

As reported on this website and in the IBEW newsletter The Current, the Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system will directly impact more than 100 union members in the meter department. Some with more than five years on the job will be offered other positions at CMP. Those with less experience will be subject to layoff or may accept incentives to leave the Company early.

The Company refused to negotiate early with the union so that the implementation could be carried out in a way that maximized opportunities for workers who would be affected. But after the project was approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and Smart Grid legislation requiring the union’s participation in a displaced worker plan was signed into law, the terms and conditions related to the impact of the AMI were negotiated between the Union and the Company.

IBEW and CMP also negotiated a Voluntary Early Retirement Program (VERP) for union employees over 55 years of age in certain job classifications. As of now, it is not clear how many IBEW members will take advantage of the VERP, but it likely that more than 80 workers will.

The Union hoped that the early retirements would help create new job opportunities for employees affected by the AMI. Now there are growing concerns that the exodus of these workers may be exploited by CMP to permanently reduce the union workforce.

“I think they are going to push us to get more work done (with remaining employees), and that could present a safety problem, as well as a job quality issue for us,” said IBEW Assistant Business Manager Bill Dunn.

In fact, CMP appears to be planning for a significant reduction in staffing levels in many different job classifications. For the past year and a half, CMP has not been replacing workers who have left the Company. CMP refuses to commit to filling any vacant jobs in the future.

Ten years ago, lineworkers joined with Union leadership to express similar concerns when jobs were going unfilled. But it wasn’t until after the death of an IBEW Lineworker at CMP that the Company reached an agreement with the Union on safety changes that might have prevented that tragedy from happening. That agreement called for the filling of 10 vacant line positions, the hiring of 20 additional Lineworkers, and the appointment of nine Safety Specialists. Now, CMP seems to be walking away from that commitment to staff at proper and safe levels.

Brother Dunn outlined a series of important safety rules that ought to be followed by all CMP employees in order to protect themselves - and their jobs. He also asked bargaining unit members to keep Union stewards and leadership informed when they see the Company shifting work away from the proper job classifications.

“Stand with us, we need everybody to support us,” said Chief Steward Dick Rogers, one of several Chief Stewards in attendance at the meeting.

Dunn also responded to concerns that some retiring IBEW members might retire from their union jobs but quickly accept invitations from the Company to return as non-union workers, thereby limiting the number of positions available for displaced workers while also damaging our union at CMP.

“It was never our intention that employees who took the VERP would come back as independent contractors,” Brother Dunn said.

Earlier in the meeting, IBEW Business Manager Cynthia Phinney thanked all the Brothers and Sisters who took time on a Sunday afternoon during the holiday season to attend the meeting. She stressed the importance of everybody on hand spreading the word to those who couldn’t attend the session. Sister Phinney also spoke briefly about history of the labor movement and urged everyone to remain active to help us achieve progress in these efforts at CMP.

IBEW Organizer Matthew Beck also provided some context in the political realm and shared immediate concerns about the direction being taken by the new majority leadership in the Maine Legislature. The legislature’s Labor Committee, a voice for working people in our state since 1887, has been targeted for elimination. Brother Beck urged members to contact the Senate and House Republican offices to urge the leadership team not to eliminate the Labor Committee. He also warned IBEW members to be alert for more anti-union legislative efforts being rumored for the session that starts in January.