Ohio Local 270 pulled off a remarkable victory this fall by successfully preserving everything in its collective bargaining agreement as employer FirstEnergy Solutions emerges from bankruptcy.
“Everything was saved,” says 270 President Frank Meznarich. “We’re not giving up anything, our contracts remain the same.”
FirstEnergy’s demand that union members give up their defined benefit pension plan would have resulted in millions of dollars in lost earned income for the 175 members at the Perry Nuclear Plant.
“We told them we are not giving you back our members’ money, it’s that simple,” Meznarich says. “And then we stuck to our guns.”
“They really wanted to hack and whack at everything so they could prepare for the new company to come in with zero liability,” says Charles Limbert, who recently retired after 35 years as a Master Nuclear Mechanic at Perry. “If we had taken the company’s first offer one-and-a-half years ago, I would have been hurt severely, hundreds of thousands of dollars lost in my pension,” he adds.
Local 270 was joined by IBEW Local 29, which represents workers at the company’s Beaver Valley, PA plant, in objecting to the company reorganization plan. The bankruptcy judge agreed, delaying the company’s plans.
The bankruptcy process hit another snag when the federal bankruptcy judge said the company needed to honor it collective bargaining agreements with the two unions before getting permission to exit bankruptcy.
When the company resolved its differences with the unions, it was able to get the go-ahead to come out of bankruptcy.
What lessons were learned?
“Don’t be so quick to give up,” Meznarich says. “I took the position of go ahead, shut the place down, we’re not going to give you anything back. I was sick and tired of them threatening my members.”
Limbert says, “Stick together, stay informed as to what’s going on and be willing to help out if the union leadership calls on you because your livelihood and your community has a big stake in the outcome.”