BGE workers reject union in close vote Company won in '96, agreed to 2nd election to settle labor charges

'There will be a Round 3'

Final tally unclear as company contests eligibility of 726

Utilities

October 17, 1998|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

An article Saturday incorrectly reported that Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. is challenging the votes of 726 employees in a union election. BGE maintains the contested votes should be counted in the election; the International Brotherhood of

Electrical Workers wants the votes excluded.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. employees have voted down union representation for the second time in two years, but the company's margin of victory was so small that a final outcome won't be certain for weeks.

Although the company topped the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers with 1,298 votes to the union's 1,178, the outcome announced yesterday by federal officials after two days of voting marks a stark change from a similar election two years ago, when the utility crushed the union by a 71 percent to 29 percent margin.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Yesterday's outcome resulted in a narrow victory of 52 percent to 48 percent.

The final outcome of the election won't be known for several weeks, however, because the National Labor Relations Board will have to decide whether 726 votes that BGE contested should be counted. BGE challenged the votes based on job classifications of draftsmen, technicians, engineering assistants and others who it contends should be excluded from union representation.

"It was gratifying that we were so close but disappointing that we still lost," said Jim Hunter, president of the IBEW's Local 1900, which is attempting to represent BGE employees through collective bargaining. "But this has to be eye-opening for the company.

"It shows that people understand that times are changing and that the need for a contract is increasing," Hunter added. "Clearly, in my mind, the outcome means that there will be a Round three."

The union, which also represents 2,700 Potomac Electric Power Co. workers, contends that an organized labor contract is increasingly necessary for job security as the industry moves toward an uncertain future of deregulation.

BGE has acknowledged that with the advent of competition it will be unable to offer the blanket security it had in the past, but it counters that a successful company, not a union, creates job security.

The company, which has remained adamant that it must remain union-free to have the flexibility that will be required in the future, said yesterday that it expected the vote to be closer than it was two years ago.

"I am confident that, in the end, our victory will be confirmed," said Christian H. Poindexter, BGE's chairman and chief executive. "Given how fast competition is changing our industry, we knew we would face a bigger challenge today than we did in 1996. These are uncertain times for us all in the utility business, and the union's empty promise of job security has great appeal."

"But I can't guarantee job security, nor can a union," Poindexter added. "In today's competitive world, real job security and good wages and benefits come from working for a growing and successful company, not from union contracts. And that's exactly what BGE will be."

The election came as a result of a settlement between the union, BGE and the NLRB in June, after the IBEW and, subsequently, the government accused the company of 17 violations of federal labor law and unfair labor practices dating to the election in December 1996.

The IBEW agreed to drop its pursuit of the charges in exchange for a second election.

BGE is one of four major utilities nationwide where workers are not represented by collective bargaining. The 182-year-old company has never been unionized. Before the 1996 election, the last union-certification vote there was held 36 years ago.

Pub Date: 10/17/98

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