Electrical workers say no to DTE pact

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - The electrical workers of the union that represents more than 4,000 DTE Energy Co. employees has rejected a tentative contract, according to a recent posting on the Utility Workers Union of America Local 223's Web site.

In the three-year agreement, the union won an average annual wage increase of 3.25 percent and other benefits, including improved life insurance, but agreed to pay more for health care and get fewer sick days.

Union leaders had recommended ratification. The rejection of the deal could set in motion strike protocol that would affect the Detroit-based utility's power plants, including Fermi II and Monroe. The ratification ballot, a sample of which was posted to the union Web site, stated that a "no" vote would authorize the negotiating committee to exercise a 45-day notice of intent to strike.

DTE spokesman Len Singer said the company is aware of the results posted to the local's Web site, but hasn't received official vote counts from the union, nor any type of strike notice.

"We continue to be in discussions with union leadership," he said. "We understand that less than half of Local 223 voted on the tentative contract, and we are concerned about the wishes of the silent majority."

DTE and the union reached the tentative agreement on a new three-year contract on Aug. 15. Rank-and-file members had until Oct. 5 to vote on the deal.

Officials at Local 223 declined to comment on the results of the contract vote or what will happen next, other than to say an announcement is expected soon.

The agreement called for the creation of a Comprehensive Time Off Bank which would include sick, personal and vacation days.

Total days off would range from 17 for workers with less than six years experience to 37 days for veterans of 24 years or more. Those totals represent a five-day decrease from the previous contract, according to 223Nation.com, a Web site that called for workers to reject the contract.

The deal also called for a quarter-percentage point increase in how much of an employee's wages would be deducted for their insurance premiums, and for maximum out-of-pocket medical expenses to grow from $300 per family in 2008 to $1,000 in 2011.

A rank-and-file DTE electrical worker, who asked not to be identified, said he rejected the contract because he couldn't justify giving up sick days and paying more for health care at a time when DTE is profitable and investing millions to beautify its Detroit headquarters.

A posting on the local's Web site read: "The Contract Vote for the Electric Membership has failed. The Contract Vote for the Gas Membership Has Passed. More Information to follow."

The electrical membership includes those who work in skilled trades, customer service and technical jobs. The gas membership includes those who work as meter readers and in gas distribution.


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