Power plant workers poised to strike

Almost 80 percent of Tri-State Generation and Transmission employees willing to picket

If contract demands aren't met, Tri-State Generation and Transmission power plant workers on the Western Slope will strike April 2.

Members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voted this week to strike for equal wages, floating holidays, better retirement benefits and health insurance. The union members are willing to picket four Tri-State Generation and Transmission sites, sacrificing paychecks for as long as it takes to settle the contract dispute.

There are 325 members of the Tri-State Western Slope union bargaining unit. Of those, 296 are eligible to vote and 79.9 percent voted to strike. A favorable vote from 50 percent of the members was needed to approve a strike. The final vote was 198 in favor and 40 opposed.

The current union contract expires at midnight April 1 and without a new contract, union members can strike.

"We've been meeting with Tri-State for seven weeks now and when we got to economic items, they have not even wanted to talk about them," union representative Michael Byrd said.

Union members want wages equal to workers in Eastern Slope electrical power plants. According to Byrd, those employees make $1.55 more per hour for the same work as employees on the Western Slope. Union workers are also looking for wages equal to workers for Public Service Company of Colorado, PacificCorp., Salt River Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District and the Platte River Power Authority. Those companies are partners with Tri-State in ownership of two of the Craig Station units.

"We've got an average," Byrd said. "We don't want more and we don't want less."

Workers are also requesting a floating holiday, two additional days of sick leave and a benefit fund that would save retired employees an average of $300 per month in medical payments, Byrd said.

Tri-State officials had little to say about the pending strike.

"Negotiations are continuing and it is our strong hope we will have a new contract before the old one expires," said Sara Rivenburgh, assistant general manager of human resources and administration at the Tri-State corporate offices in Denver.

Union votes were taken in Montrose, Nucla, Pueblo, Durango and Craig. Craig and Nucla are home to power plants and Pueblo, Durango and Montrose each have transmission lines owned by Tri-State.

If a contract is not agreed to and members strike, 325 employees at those four sites will picket. Of those employees, 220 work at Craig Station.

The next meeting for contract negotiations will be March 6.

"I hope they see that we're serious," Byrd said. He said workers will strike until "the situation is resolved to the satisfaction of the bargaining unit" if officials don't come to terms at the March meeting.

Tri-State officials would not comment about the issues, saying they would like to "keep the issues within the negotiation."

They hope the situation will be resolved without a strike.

"We'd like to avoid a strike situation," Jim Van Someren, Tri-State spokesman in Denver, said. "Certainly we'd like to get the contract signed and have things move smoothly like they usually do."

According to Van Someren, in the eight years since it took over operations of the Craig Station, Tri-State has never faced a strike situation.

Tri-State supplies coal-generated power to more than 1 million customers in western states.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.