Employees from Anaconda’s Dave Gates Generating Station still haven’t come to terms with Northwestern Energy on a labor contract.
As previously reported, the Dave Gates workers have been trying to unionize for years in response to a series of working-condition- and pay-related changes Northwestern Energy made without input from station employees.
At the start of 2019, they haven’t resolved the station-employer labor dispute.
In early 2018, Dave Gates employees voted to join the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 400. According to the union’s business agent, Craig Davis, he and station workers met with Northwestern several times to hash out a labor contract both sides agreed with, most recently with the help of a federal mediator.
However, Davis said the energy company refuses to get rid of unilateral labor contract language, which strips the Dave Gates employees of their negotiating rights.
“If I sign this contract today, these guys will lose rights they currently have and they will lose money,” Davis said.
Specifically, Davis said the parts of the labor contract proposed by Northwestern Energy will allow the company to make various changes to working conditions, like scheduling and benefits, without employee feedback—similar to changes they have already made since the station voted to unionize with Local 400, which Davis has filed unfair labor practice complaints about with the National Labor Board of Relations.
The contract will also change the employees’ bonuses and pay scale, causing a wage freeze and reducing incentive pay.
“The pay scale numbers proposed create a financial injury to the employees,” Davis said. “They are never going to agree with something that will set them backward.”
When Davis shared the final labor contract draft with Dave Gates employees, he said it was “shot down in flames.” He informed Northwestern Energy of the station’s decision not to ratify, bringing the two parties back to the negotiation stage.
Since the federal mediator was involved in the last two-day, in-person negotiation period, she will be involved moving forward, Davis said. He hopes to meet at the table again sometime in Jan. and to come away with an agreement.
Northwestern Energy is hopeful, too. The company released a statement on Thursday that said it looks forward to resolution through the federal mediator. It also noted that the parties have made significant progress, reaching tentative agreement on many items.
Davis said yes, not all of the proposed contract is bad—there is some language both sides agree with and some unilateral language they all understand as necessary. But he added that there is also language the employees cannot live with and that he plans to rework to reach compromise.
“If it doesn’t work for the guys, it won’t work for anyone,” Davis said.