A vote on the contract could come by week's end
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Mar 8, 2011
Roughly 1,300 striking Hawaiian Electric Co. workers could be back to work by the end of this week if they approve a tentative agreement reached yesterday by negotiators for the company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260.
Hawaiian Electric President and CEO Richard Rosenblum and union business manager Lance Miyake announced the agreement yesterday evening but declined to disclose terms of the deal or the chances a majority of IBEW members will vote to accept the terms.
A previous agreement reached on Jan. 31 was voted down by union members on Feb. 18.
Miyake said it could take until the end of the week for neighbor island members to vote on the agreement, which means the 4-day-old strike could last several more days.
Striking employees disbanded pickets but won't return to work unless the agreement is ratified.
Miyake declined to say whether the new agreement differs from the one union members rejected in February. He said workers should hear about the terms first.
Rosenblum declined to take questions but said, "In my view it's a great agreement. It's fair to our employees and it's fair for our customers."
Workers said last week that major sticking points included a management proposal to raise the age of retirement with full benefits to 62 from 60; a reduction in sick leave benefits; and a plan to create a two-tier contract with new hires receiving lower wages and benefits. There also was a dispute about whether negotiated wage increases should begin with ratification of a new contract or retroactively with expiration of the previous contract in October.
Yesterday's agreement, reached following the assistance of a federal mediator on Sunday, came as the company's contractors and management were nearly finished restoring electricity to the last of about 8,000 Oahu customers, mostly in Ewa Beach, who lost power early Friday morning during a strong wind and rain storm. Only about 70 customers were still without power as of yesterday, HECO said.
HECO crews working to restore fallen utility poles walked off the job at 3:30 p.m. Friday when the strike was called.
Union officials said the timing was coincidental and that they decided to strike because Rosenblum did not meet with them on Friday.
But the timing of the strike drew swift condemnation from Hawaii politicians and customers. On Sunday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie called the situation "unacceptable and avoidable."
Yesterday, Abercrombie said in a statement, "I appreciate the efforts by the two sides to reach an agreement and want to encourage a speedy ratification vote by the union members."
Rosenblum, who arrived at the IBEW's headquarters in Moiliili at about 1 p.m. yesterday for talks with union officials, said the company had restored power to pretty much all customers. "We absolutely appreciate their patience with what we've done (to try to restore power) and are really looking forward to getting all our workers back to work," he said. "The federal mediator has been invaluable. It was a really good idea for us to call him."
The IBEW represents 54 percent of 2,380 workers at HECO on Oahu, at Hawaii Electric Light Co. on Hawaii island and at Maui Electric Co. on Maui, Molokai and Lanai. Kauai has not been affected by the strike because the electricity service there is provided by the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.