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    September 28, 2023 - Anya Litvak


      More than 700 Duquesne Light workers, a substantial majority of those represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 29, voted to authorize a strike if negotiations with the Downtown-based utility aren't successful.

      The vote, 711-14, took place on Tuesday in advance of the Sept. 30 expiration of the local's four-year contract with Duquesne Light.

      Neither the company nor the union explained the sticking points of contract discussions.

      Of Duquesne Light's more than 1,700 employees, half are represented by the union, according to a recent company public filing.

      Local 29 declined to comment but said it would be releasing a statement on Wednesday. It had not done so by 4:30 p.m.

      Duquesne Light Co. said in a statement that it "respects the right of our employees to bargain collectively and, as in previous contract years, we're committed to a good-faith effort in reaching a fair and balanced agreement."

      "We are activating operational continuity plans in the event an agreement cannot be reached by when the current contract expires on Sept. 30."

      Utilities are required to have business continuity plans, which are reviewed by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on a regular basis.

      In a recently released PUC report outlining Duquesne Light's progress in implementing the recommendations of a 2019 management operations audit, the agency found no fault with Duquesne's emergency and business continuity plans.

      The same document highlighted ongoing staffing challenges at the electric utility, where overtime hours accounted for 32% of straight time last year.

      "Individual field operation employees continue to experience high levels of overtime; in some instances, booking more than 2,080 hours of overtime within a year," the agency found. "Excessive individual worked overtime can increase the number of worker errors which could negatively impact service," the PUC's auditors said. "More importantly, excessive individual worked overtime severely deteriorates the safety environment for employees, customers, and the public."

      The report advised the company to establish a staffing plan that would keep overtime hours below 20% of straight time.

      A strike authorization gives union leadership the right to call a strike at the end of the current contract if it sees fit.

      The union and the company averted a strike in 2019 when a settlement was signed, which then-business manager Kenn Bradley described as "a fair contract that will enable us to continue to improve the day-to-day work of our members through our productive and open working relationship with management."

      Leadership has changed since then, both in the union and at the company, which has a different CEO and a new chief of human resources.

      In his "year in review" message to the union's membership, Local 29's current business manager Josh Ewing previewed the expected negotiations with Duquesne Light this fall by saying he would be seeking enhancement to the contract.

      He also wrote that the "local is still battling with DLC with multiple procedural changes including the implementation of Lifesaving safety rules and the use of class 2 [personal protection equipment] for all tasks" following an incident in April 2022 in which two workers were shocked and severely injured while performing work on a utility pole in McCandless.

      "A lot of changes were made due to the incident," Mr. Ewing wrote. "I know these issues are near and dear to a lot of our field members, and the local will continue to push for what is right for our members."

      Duquesne Light serves about 610,000 customers in parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties.

      "The PUC will continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure uninterrupted service to Duquesne Light customers," spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen said.

      Anya Litvak:

      CAPTION: PHOTO: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: More than 700 Duquesne Light workers voted to authorize a strike if negotiations with the Downtown-based utility aren't successful. A strike authorization gives union leadership the right to call a strike at the end of the current contract if it sees fit.

      CREDIT: By Anya Litvak Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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