Company says workers won't be laid off, union contract will be honored

Company says workers won't be laid off, union contract will be honored

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HELENA - Montana Power Co.'s sale of many of its electric-generation plants should not result in any layoffs of workers employed at those facilities, a promising assurance for the state's largest labor organization

"We're hopeful this sale will in fact result in no disruption of the current work force or changes to the contracts representing those workers," Don Judge, executive secretary of the state AFL-CIO, said Monday.

The Butte-based utility said, as part of the sale agreement, existing workers will be able to keep their jobs at the generation plants. Montana Power had said earlier the deal would require the buyer to keep on employees for at least 18 months.

Don Fields, director of business development for non-regulated side of PP&L Global, based in Fairfax, Va., said the company doesn't plan any layoffs and hopes the current workers will choose to remain. The company, he said, is obligated to retain those employees as part of the agreement with Montana Power.

"We want to offer them the same deal they have now," said Fields. "We're very impressed with what they've done and who they are."

Judge said the sale appears "heartening at first blush." He said PP&L, is a unionized company whose employees typically are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

That could lead to a smooth transition, Judge said, because approximately 500 union employees at Montana Power generation facilities also are represented by the IBEW.

Lance Wilbanks, business manager for the IBEW Local 1638 in Colstrip, said he doesn't know enough about PP&L to determine how Monday's sale will affect union workers at the Colstrip power plants. He said he hoped to get a letter off to the IBEW international office on Monday requesting more information.

Even so, Wilbanks said the few workers he had talked to are positive about the deal.

"Their optimism is fairly high that it will be a company that will communicate with the bargaining unit employees," he said. "It's my hope, and I believe the hope and desire of my membership, that the new owners will communicate more effectively with Local 1638 (than Montana Power has.)"

Fields pledged that PP&L will assume existing bargaining agreements and will provide the same benefit programs to employees.

"I would think that the workers, in terms of what they get today vs. what they get tomorrow, aren't going to see a difference," he said.

Wilbanks said the local's contract with Montana Power expires April 30, 2001, and includes a successor clause in case of a sale. It also provides for severance benefits for laid-off employees.

Diana Setterberg is a reporter for the Billings Gazette

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