BGE workers overwhelmingly reject unionizing

Workers vote 1,135 to 304 against IBEW

December 17, 2010|By Hanah Cho, The Baltimore Sun

Workers at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. rejected a unionization drive by a nearly 4-1 margin, defeating efforts by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for the fourth time in 14 years.

After two days of balloting run by the National Labor Relations Board that ended Friday, the final tally was 1,135-304 votes, rejecting the union. The lopsided outcome keeps the Baltimore utility as one of the few utilities in the country that is nonunion.

"We are extremely pleased that once again BGE employees have chosen overwhelmingly to remain union-free," BGE spokesman Rob Gould said. "To have become handcuffed by the constraints typically imposed by a union contract could have changed our business forever and negatively impacted our customers."

About 1,519 nonsupervisory BGE workers, including linemen and maintenance workers, were eligible to vote.

The IBEW has tried repeatedly over the years to organize workers at BGE without success. This time around, the union promised more job security amid recent corporate upheaval at BGE's parent Constellation Energy Group, which was almost merged or sold at least three times during the past 15 years.

John Holt, president of IBEW Local 1900, which represents utility workers at Pepco and Mirant Corp., said he was not surprised by BGE's margin of victory. Holt said BGE executives had a major advantage because they had direct access to workers.

"When you put everything together, they had more time and more money than we did," he said, noting that BGE spent ratepayer money to fight the IBEW's unionization efforts. "The problem that I have with the whole thing is, BGE is a regulated utility and they could spend the money we pay bills for to keep it nonunion."

Gould acknowledged that the company used some ratepayer dollars in its efforts to see "BGE remain union-free," though he declined to disclose how much was spent.

"We do believe that it is in the best interest of our customers that we remain union-free, given unionization could result in less operational flexibility, which ultimately could impact service reliability and response time," he said.

BGE President and Chief Executive Kenneth W. DeFontes Jr. met with employees earlier this week at various BGE service locations to argue that a union was not necessary because workers are compensated fairly and treated well.

IBEW must wait at least a year before it can file a request for another election. Holt said he would be open to trying again.

BGE workers also defeated unionization efforts in 1996, 1998 and 2000. This year's election represented the largest margin of victory for BGE.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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