Field Lab Techs Win First Contract at MI Consumers Energy
Almost two years after winning an organizing election by one vote, members of Consumers Energy’s Electric Field Lab (EFL) group voted 38 to 2 on May 17 to ratify their first contract, thereby gaining equal standing with the rest of the organized members of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council (MSUWC) at the company.
One month earlier, after nearly two years of negotiations, the MSUWC reached an agreement in principle with Consumers Energy regarding the inclusion of the EFL employees into the existing Operating, Maintenance and Construction (OM&C) Working Agreement between the parties.
Statewide meeting jumpstarts organizing
For many EFL members, the agreement marked the final step in their years-long attempt to organize and gain equal footing with the long-organized employees of Consumers Energy. Attempts to organize the EFL date back to the early 1990’s, but the MSUWC was not able to obtain a majority interest in organizing within the group until late in 2016 when some senior members of the group joined the effort to organize.
In April 2017, a core group of EFL members organized a statewide meeting of the group with the MSUWC. During the meeting they explained their interests and concerns about organizing. The driving forces were significant pay inequity within the group and in comparison with existing union employees doing similar work, the pigeon-holing of employees preventing advancement, and significant differences in healthcare costs compared to their union counterparts. After hearing the EFL members, the MSUWC committed to helping the group overcome these issues if they authorized the UWUA to bargain on their behalf.
Persistence pays off
After obtaining over two-thirds of the group’s authorization cards, the MSUWC petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election, and on May 24, 2017 the union won the election by one vote. Considering a one vote win is by no means a mandate, the MSUWC knew they had their work cut out for them if they were going to get an agreement the group would ratify.
A negotiation team was assembled, including members of the MSUWC Executive Board and three of the EFL’s more senior and respected members. EFL’s, Brian Layman, Scott McCullough, and Rich Keene, one of the organizing efforts strongest supporters, all joined the negotiation team.
The group developed a plan that included bringing the EFL under the existing OM&C Working Agreement. Throughout negotiations, the company resisted the idea of bringing the EFL into the OM&C Agreement, but the bargaining committee refused to waiver, demanding the members of the EFL receive all the benefits of other organized members with Consumers Energy. Their persistence paid off.