Workers at three divisions of Constellation Energy Group Inc. rejected a unionization drive by nearly 2-to-1, giving the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers its third defeat in four years.
After two days of balloting run by the National Labor Relations Board, the final tally was 1,441 to 758 against the union. The voting strongly confirmed that the IBEW never gained a firm foothold with its appeals to what it believed were widespread employee concerns about improved pay, benefits and job security.
The vote margin surprised company officials and union leaders alike.
"I didn't know how it would go, but I'm very pleased with the results," said Constellation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Christian H. Poindexter. "We really worked hard over the years to try to have good employee relations and provide things employees are looking for. I think this says that the big majority of our people think we're doing a good job of that. I've always said that true job security is working for a company that is successful.
"The challenge now is to get everyone moving in the same direction ... so we can all get focused on getting ready to separate the two businesses," Poindexter said.
Constellation announced in October that the company would split in two by the middle or end of next year into a fast-growth, unregulated business that will generate and sell power nationwide and a regional electric company that will include its regulated subsidiary BGE.
Union leaders said it is unclear whether they will try again to unionize the company.
At least for the next year - the minimum amount of time the union would have to wait before filing a request for another election - Constellation will remain one of a handful of electric utilities in the country that is nonunion.
The NLRB said physical linemen, underground linemen and gas workers in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s production and maintenance division rejected the union 890 to 548.
Designers and engineers in BGE's technical division voted 161 to 57 against unionization. And physical plant workers in Constellation Power Source Generation unit voted 390 to 153 against the union.
"It's very disheartening to lose by those numbers," said James L. Hunter, president of IBEW Local 1900.
"We did everything that we could do. But when you're trying to organize a company that is as adamant as BGE was to keep [organized] labor out and is as willing to spend any expense to keep us out, it made it very, very difficult."
"The company had unlimited access and unlimited money to bombard people with the message that the union is lying, the union is lying. Obviously, a lot of people believed them."
Support for unionization surfaced at BGE in 1993, when the company said it would have to lay off more than 1,000 employees to prepare for deregulation. The IBEW seized on employee apprehension and culled enough support to hold union votes at BGE in 1996 and in 1998.
In the 1996 vote, the utility crushed the union by a tally of 1,864 to 790. In 1998, the company's victory was much narrower, 1,298 to 1,178.
In the weeks leading to the latest voting, both sides inundated workers with propaganda.
Constellation supervisors held one-on-one discussions with eligible employees to answer labor questions. The company paid an undisclosed amount of money to an anti-labor group to hold daily training sessions that employees were required to attend as a work assignment.
Union supporters paid house calls on hundreds of employees over the last year. The union also bought advertisements on billboards and buses to get its message across.
But in the end, workers such as 29-year-old Timothy Mock voted against the IBEW.
"Everybody thought it was going to be close, but I'm just thankful that they didn't get in," said Mock, an overhead lineman in the company's Howard Service Center who has been with BGE for 10 years.
"I think things are going really well with the company. I'm being treated very well. They respect us, for the most part. I don't think I'll be going anywhere for a while."