Strike issue could have far-reaching effects

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 7, 2002

I hope that slogan &uot;you never miss your water until the well runs dry&uot; doesn’t apply to Dominion Power customers while some 3,700 employees at the company are on strike.

When I was surprised to hear that these employees have tried since January to negotiate a contract over retirement and health care benefits. Union representatives tried to deal with Dominion Power representatives once again Monday and things still remain the same with neither side giving in. Members of the International Brothers of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 50 Union walked off the job at noon last Friday after negotiations with the company failed to take place Thursday night.

I think of the times when my late husband, James, and I were affected by strikes when he was an employee at the Newport News Shipyard; we had experienced two strikes in the 26 years he was employed there. I can put myself in these DP workers and their families’ places, and hope that something will be worked out soon because being on strike is as difficult for all concerned.

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This weekend while out shopping in a local department store, I heard remarks from a few people who just need to learn more about what being on strike is all about Statements such as &uot;These workers just want to take a vacation from work for a while,&uot; or

&uot;At least they have a job and some people can’t even find work,&uot; irk me to no end because I’ve heard them often in the past.

First, before a strike is planned, and in almost every case, workers have to dedicate time to walk a picket line and carry signs with statements about their cause.

I can guarantee you that walking for even a small amount of time, especially in this hot weather, is no picnic. If the strike goes on long enough, workers will probably have to wait in line to pick up checks that usually take care of necessary bills and items only and sometimes some unions will compensate with food donations.

The fact that these workers are striking for a future after retirement is a good cause. I’m sure that most people do not want to end up trying to find part-time jobs to help themselves make ends meet and put food on the table in those golden years. I have seen some of my friends go back to work part-time and full-time to do this – some by choice, but most by necessity. What does it profit a man to work at a job all of his life, and then after he retires have to worry about finances or where he would end up if he should experience serious illness?

Workers have said this strike does not concern pay raises because Dominion Power has already negotiated in the past that they will receive a 16.5 percent raise over the next five years. The base pay is already $52,000 a year before overtime and other payments and there was a $500 signing bonus. However, workers are upset that the &uot;success sharing&uot; bonuses that amounted to several hundred dollars an employee last year, will end with this particular package. These are the workers’ concerns.

Now from the customers’ viewpoint I will say this much. I am quite nervous that the bottom will fall out soon. We have been having too many hot days with no rain. Sometime it is going to end. We are still being threatened with violent thunderstorms for an entire month; we are in the hurricane season and I am hoping that Bertha remains a tropical depression and that no other visitors invade our territory.

Not only is the Hampton Roads area affected, but also Elizabeth City, Ahoskie and the Outer Banks of North Carolina because there are at least 500 workers of the union employed in these areas.

Dale Gauding of Channel 13 News talked to an IBEW Local 50 member last Friday who stated that Dominion Power couldn’t keep lights on with the workers that it has, so they are living in a fantasy world by making the statement that they have a contingency plan if there is a major disruption in anyone’s electrical service.

This plan includes calling on electrical companies, contractors and non-unionized workers to step in and take over or make repairs. My concern is that if a major storm should hit and there was a major power outage, how long would it take to get things going again? After all, didn’t these contractors and businesses have enough work and customers themselves before the strike?

There has not been a strike at Dominion Power since 1964, which lasted for five days and to me that was five days too long. Virginia Law would allow Governor Mark Warner to take over Dominion facilities in the state if a strike led to substantial interruption of service.

However, his office reported that he would monitor the situation closely to make sure that Virginians continue to receive electrical service without disruption. But the concern of most customers is, suppose there is a major disruption.

Let’s just pray that benefit issues are resolved quickly before a major storm causes power outages because chances are if that happens, the governor may find himself trying to monitor the situation in total darkness.

Evelyn Wall is a staff writer and regular columnist for the News-Herald.