A New Type of Bargaining for Local 69

When negotiating contracts, members at Local 69 were accustomed to sometimes contentious face offs with their two employers, Dominion Energy and Berkshire Hathaway. After Dominion sold its West Virginia natural gas operations to Hope Gas in late 2022 and the local’s collective bargaining agreement covering 265 employees came up for renewal in 2023, Local 69 President Jason Boyce said his members expected more of the same.

Local 69 negotiating committee members J.R.Groves, Kevin Cunningham and Jan Tennant

“We prepared for negotiations with this new operator just as we had in the past,” he said. Boyce reports that the experience was surprisingly different. “I have to give Hope Gas management credit. They approached bargaining in a way we had never seen. They didn’t bring one give-back to the table; instead, they came to the first session and said, ‘How can we do better?’”

Boyce said it’s been kind of surreal to accept that Hope Gas is sincere in its desire to pay fair wages and treat its workers and customers with respect. The difference in approach derives from the company’s ownership. It doesn’t answer to shareholders or venture capitalists. It’s a subsidiary of Hearthstone Holdings, Inc., a portfolio company of Ullico Inc.’s infrastructure fund. Ullico, short for the Union Life Insurance Company, is the country’s only labor-owned insurance and investment company.

Bargaining began April 10 and a tentative agreement was reached less than three weeks later. The new contract, which runs through March 31, 2026, includes 14% in guaranteed wage increases over three years and a third personal day. It also recognizes several new union job classifications.

Boyce said members are most excited that they also won a memorandum of understanding to restore retiree medical benefits that had been lost in 2017: “When Hope Gas learned about what happened with retiree medical under Dominion, they put it on the table, and we got it back. Plus, the language is written so that it binds any future owner to continue the coverage.”

Five other Local 69 members served on the negotiating committee with Boyce: Vice President Kevin Cunningham; Secretary Taylor Brown; Treasurer Debbie Syck; Region 1 Director J.R. Groves; and Region 2 Director Jan Tennant.

Local 69 members at Hope Gas serve 111,000 customers and maintain 5,200 miles of natural gas distribution and gathering pipelines.

This fall, the local’s 550 storage and transmission members at Berkshire Hathaway are bargaining their contract renewal. Boyce said, “I wish Berkshire Hathaway would take a page from the Hope Gas book, but unfortunately these negotiations have been more of what we’re used to seeing.”