MANCHESTER — The largest group of union workers at Central Maine Power has voted overwhelming to reject the utility’s final contract offer and have authorized their officers to call a strike, according to union officials.
Both parties, however, have agreed to continue negotiations and have extended the existing contract until next Friday, May 15. The contract expired April 30. Contract talks have been under way since February.
The workers, members of Local 1837 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, rejected the contract offer by a vote of 454-191. The votes were tallied Wednesday, according to Union Steward Dick Rogers.
“Sometimes you have to stand up and just say no; our employees have said that loud and clear,” Rogers said. “That’s going to say a lot to people.”
CMP spokesman John Carroll declined to comment on the vote or on the contract offer the company had made.
“As long as we’re in negotiations like this, we won’t comment,” he said.
Rogers also declined to discuss the specific terms of CMP’s contract offer, but said the company was demanding major concessions on retirement and health care benefits. The company’s contract offer would have meant additional employee costs for health benefits and an increase in the amount retirees pay to keep medical benefits once they retire.
“It’s enough so that it probably would be too expensive for someone to retire and keep medical,” he said.
In a press release, the union officials claimed the company had a net profit of $55 million last year, equal to CMP’s labor costs. That profit, they said, goes out of state to CMP’s parent company in Spain. CMP is a unit of Energy East, which is owned by Iberdrola, a global power company based in Spain.
“It’s not a case where they’re hurting,” Rogers said. “Their executives are getting pretty good salaries and bonuses. It’s a corporate greed thing.”
The strike vote authorizes union officials to take steps necessary to call a strike if negotiations fail to produce a contract that union members approve. Rogers stressed that nobody wants a strike, especially given the current economic conditions.
“We’re doing more with less, everybody is,” he said. “This is not a time to be talking strike. That gives you an idea just how bad a deal this is.”
Rogers said the union was trying to maintain the benefits employees currently have with the company.
Negotiators from both sides are scheduled to meet again next week to continue contract talks.
IBEW represents 680 of CMP’s 1,200 employees. CMP has approximately 600,000 customers in southern and central Maine. It has service centers in Alfred, Augusta, Belfast, Bridgton, Brunswick, Dover-Foxcroft, Fairfield, Farmington, Lewiston, Portland, Rockland and Skowhegan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.