Enstar employees strike

Photo by Dan Balmer/Peninsula Clarion ENSTAR employees picket in front of ENSTAR Natural Gas Company on the Kenai Spur Highway Monday in Soldotna. The 20 field workers and supporters from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 367 are part of statewide strike over failed negotiations for pension and health benefits.

Enstar Natural Gas Co.’s Alaska operations employees went on strike Monday morning.

The striking workers are at Enstar’s Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna area branches, according to a release from the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 367 that represents the Enstar employees.

The union and the natural gas utility have not been able to settle differences over retirement benefits, and Enstar has not negotiated fairly, the union claims.

“Enstar has refused to provide information to the union, it has intimidated witnesses for reporting Enstar misconduct, it has lied about the funding level of the pension plan, it has denied leave cash in requests of union employees, and it has threatened employees with the loss of health benefits,” UA 367 alleges in an official statement.

The union says it has filed four unfair labor practice complaints regarding Enstar’s conduct and it expects to file more.

About 150 employees are involved in the strike, union counsel Chuck Dunnagan said. The union represents both Enstar’s clerical and operations workers.

Enstar spokesman John Sims said he could not comment on the strike as of Monday morning.

“We will continue to focus on delivering safe and reliable service to our customers,” Sims wrote in official statement.

Enstar has nearly 140,000 natural gas customers in Southcentral. The company has taken heat recently for rate hikes related to lower demand for gas because of this year’s warm spring in the region.

Union representatives claim Enstar is demanding reduced benefits to new hires. They would get a 5 percent company contribution to a 401(k) retirement plan.

The guaranteed monthly benefits and a 2 percent profit sharing portion of the pension plan for current employees would remain in place.

The clerical workers narrowly approved a contract with the revised retirement benefits, while the operations group “strongly and emotionally rejected it,” the union reports.

“The short takeaway is that we are not asking for any increase in pension benefits,” Dunnagan said.

Both contract offers were for three years, a period that began March 31, he said.

As for further negotiations, Dunnagan said none are scheduled. There was miscommunication between union and company leadership regarding a meeting set for Aug. 9, which ultimately didn’t happen, he said.

Emergency operations crews were instructed by union leadership to remain on the job Monday until work sites and equipment could be secured.

 

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

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