UPDATED: Southern Indiana Power line workers locked out of jobs in contract dispute

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Company calls its offer ‘fair and equitable’

TELL CITY – Line-crew employees of Southern Indiana Power were locked out of their jobs last week after voting to turn down a final offer over wages the electric cooperative offered to them in a proposed four-year contract.

The two sides disagreed this week on each other’s offer over pay and benefits.

Joe Bailey, assistant business agent for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1393, said the offer by Southern Indiana Power, turned down by workers in a Sept. 30 vote, came up short in giving workers a wage comparable to other workers serving Indiana cooperatives.

Bailey said the decision to lock out workers was made by Southern Indiana Power Chief Operating Officer Steve Seibert and members of the board of directors even though employees had offered to continue working under the old contract that expired Sept. 30.

However, he said employees were locked out of their jobs when they arrived at work Tuesday. He said employees turned in their equipment and have been prevented from going back to work since then.

Bailey said employees’ decision to turn down the contract offer also authorized a strike. However, no strike was called and he said rumors that employees are on strike are false.

“We were and are shut out,” he said.

Bailey visited the News office Monday with Southern Indiana Power lineman Derek Spath.

In a press release from Southern Indiana Power, the company said the union waited until the day the current agreement expired even though negotiations had ended Sept. 16. The company said it engaged in three days of talks with the union and said it offered several benefits to workers.

The company said the proposal was fair and offered several benefits in addition to a wage increase, including in-creased break hours, funeral and sick leave benefits, service watch pay and  changes in the medical insurance package that gave employees more flexibility and could have added nearly 2 percent to employees’ take-home pay.

“The company believes that its final proposal offered during the last negotiation session provided a fair and equitable package of working conditions, benefits and wages,” Southern Indiana Power’s statement said.

Bailey said the company offered a 3-percent increase the first year, with 2.5 percent increases the second and third years and a 3-percent increase the fourth year. However, he said the company’s line workers would still earn less than the average employee at other cooperatives.

He said Southern Indiana Power would need to offer a 6-percent increase the first year alone to match the average of what line workers earn for other rural-electric cooperatives served by Hoosier Energy.

In a second press release issued Tuesday, Southern Indiana Power disagreed with Bailey’s calculations about workers needing a 6-percent increase to match those of other cooperatives.

“To the contrary, the average of what line workers earn for rural electric cooperatives served by Hoosier Energy is only 3.13 percent higher than the current hourly rate of the Southern Indiana Power lineman,” the press release said. “If the union employees ac-cept the final offer of the company on Sept. 16, the lineman will be paid only 8 cents less per hour (.2 percent) than the average pay for linemen at the other 18 rural electric cooperatives served by Hoosier Energy.”

The company said it believes “the total compensation package offered to its linemen, including the wage increases quoted in the article as well as the fact that these employees will no longer have to pay any part of their insurance premiums which constitutes an additional 1.8 percent increase in take home pay, represents a very fair and equitable compensation package for its workers. If the employees were to accept this best and final offer, the lockout would end immediately.”

Southern Indiana Power also disputed a statement made in an online story published on the Perry County News’ website about health insurance and an offer to extend coverage to all cooperative employees, not just line workers.
The company said the union offer was for bargaining-unit employees only.

The companys aid it has offered to pay 100 percent of the insurance premiums for the next four years for both the bargaining unit employees and their families if the union took advantage of the union program.

Southern Indiana Power also said all services to members are continuing during the lockout.