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Illinois strikers take on energy bosses

by ELIZABETH SCHULTE | July 6, 2001 | Page 15

CHICAGO--Strikers looked on as coal ash spewed out of one of the buildings that makes up Midwest Generation's Crawford electrical power station. "That's what happens when you've got managers doing the work inside," said one striker.

Some 1,150 members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 15 walked out at seven northern Illinois electrical power stations on June 28 after Midwest Generation refused to negotiate. Their contract expired March 31.

"We feel the company has got to deal with us," said striker Harold Davis, who has worked at the facility for 17 years. "Until the contract is settled, we can't go back to work."

Midwest Generation bought the fossil-fuel-fired plants from Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd) in 1999, agreeing to sell the power back to ComEd. Midwest currently provides about 40 percent of ComEd's power.

"We can run as long as we have to," bragged Midwest spokesman Doug McFarlan. Currently, 350 management employees are filling in for the more than 1,000 skilled union workers.

It looks like Midwest is gunning for the union.

After the March 31 contract deadline passed, 89 percent of members voted in favor of a strike on May 25. But the company still refused to negotiate in good faith.

Midwest Generation management wants to get rid of progressive discipline policies, contracting-out procedures and customary and past practices that existed in Local 15's contract with ComEd.

"They don't plan on having us around, it seems," said striker Bernie O'Boyle. "We've been together 60 years when it was ComEd. When they bought us, they bought our contract. We aren't asking for anything they didn't buy a year and a half ago."

Though Midwest Generation claims it can't afford the union's demand, it can afford a team of security guards from Special Response Corp. to patrol the gates with video cameras.

Rumor has it that, by throwing workers out on strike, Midwest gets out of a clause with ComEd enabling it to sell power on the open market--at increased profit. After California's power debacle, consumers and workers both know how far the power bosses will go to make big bucks.

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