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HECO strike continues until union ratifies new contract

By Alan Yonan

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 06:46 p.m. HST, Mar 07, 2011


Hawaiian Electric Co. and union officials reached a tentative agreement today on a new contract, but the strike that began Friday will continue until union members ratify the agreement.

Hawaiian Electric President and CEO Richard Rosenblum emerged from union headquarters shortly after 5 p.m. and said HECO and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 signed a tentative agreement on a new contract.

"In my view, it's a great agreement. It's fair to our employees and it's fair to our customers," Rosenblum said.

Union leader Lance Miyake said union workers will not return to work until the agreement is ratified. Miyake said the ratification vote could take place before the end of the week.

The strike disrupted efforts to restore power for thousands of customers over the weekend, but the company says power is back on for almost all customers.

Picket lines in front of the HECO offices and baseyard on King Street and Ward Avenue have come down and members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 were told not to report to the picket lines. The tentative agreement is subject to a ratification vote by union membership, workers said.

"We have pretty much restored all our customers' (power) from the storm over the weekend," he said. "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. The federal mediator has been invaluable. It was a really good idea for us to call him."

Company and union officials met with a federal mediator all day Sunday.

About 1,300 HECO workers went on strike at 3:30 p.m. Friday and began walking picket lines on Oahu, the Big Island and in Maui County. The strike’s timing was a blow to about 8,000 Oahu residents, most in Ewa Beach, who lost power early Friday morning after a powerful wind and rain storm swept over the island.

HECO crews working to restore fallen utility poles walked off their job sites when the strike was called.

Many of the residents were without power until Saturday morning, but by Monday, the company said all but about 70 customers had power. 

Last month, the Local 1260 workers rejected a tentative contract agreement reached between union leaders and management, setting the stage for the strike.

The timing of the strike drew swift condemnation from Hawaii politicians and affected residents. Gov. Neil Abercrombie called the situation “unacceptable and avoidable” yesterday.

Union officials said the timing was coincidental and that they decided to go on strike because Rosenblum did not meet with them on Friday.

Rosenblum was among the company executives who met with the mediator and union officials for a marathon negotiating session yesterday.

HECO workers said last week that the two sides disagreed on a management proposal to raise the age of retirement with full benefits to 62 from 60; a proposed 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 over whether negotiated wage increases should begin with ratification of a new contract or expiration of the previous contract last October. Neither company nor union officials would confirm the sticking points in the contract talks.






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