BGE employees vote today on whether to join union Status also will affect merger with Pepco

Utilities

December 18, 1996|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. employees will vote today to accept or reject union representation, the first such election involving the utility's workers in more than three decades.

Over the next two days, nearly 3,500 BGE workers are slated to cast votes at 11 polling stations set up by the National Labor Relations Board to determine through a simple majority whether BGE will maintain its 180-year status as a union-free company.

At stake, too, is perhaps the fate of collective bargaining in the planned Constellation Energy Corp., the utility BGE and the Potomac Electric Power Co. plan to form in April.

"There's so much more involved here than just representation of BGE workers," said James Hunter, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' Local 1900, which represents 2,700 Pepco employees.

"This is a major campaign for the IBEW and for organized labor," he added. "And we haven't done well lately, because it's very difficult to combat efforts against labor groups. Everyone is watching this vote very closely."

BGE, not surprisingly, views the election -- and its outcome -- differently.

"We believe we're going to win, because we think our employees have figured out for themselves that this is not a good deal for them," said George C. Creel, BGE's executive vice president and acting chief operating officer, who was employed by the company during the last union vote, in 1962.

"The IBEW's agenda is different from ours," he said.

"Ours is to deal with changes in the industry and the expectations of our customers. Our customers don't want to hear that something isn't in someone's job description. They want people to respond quickly, to fix problems."

The voting, which begins at 6: 30 a.m., was cemented yesterday when the NLRB in Washington sided with its Baltimore regional office and rejected a BGE appeal over who could participate in the election.

BGE had sought to include white-collar employees, believing they would be sympathetic to the company.

"The board ordered that, while certain job classifications may be challenged to include additional employees in the voting process, all other aspects of the initial decision were affirmed," said Louis D'Amico, the NLRB's regional director.

BGE has repeatedly said it hopes to maintain its union-free status in order to ensure flexibility in a fast-changing utility industry that, for the first time, is facing issues of deregulation and competition.

IBEW leaders, by contrast, contend that union representation is necessary because it would allow workers more involvement in decision making and provide employees protection against arbitrary termination.

D'Amico said the NLRB hopes to have the votes counted by Friday afternoon.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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