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Pepco Caves On Contract Dispute To Avoid Union Strike

Talk about having your negotiating adversary over the barrel.

Pepco and the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers' Maryland-based Local 1900 had been in contract gridlock for months. With the old contract set to expire in May, just as the summer storm season would be heating up, the company had to find a way out.

But after they voted down a collective bargaining contract Pepco called its “last, best and final offer" in September, members approved a four-year pact on Oct. 18 that provides wage increases of 2.25 percent the first year and 2.5 percent the next three. The union has received salary increases of at least 2 percent every year since 1999. The union agreed to forego retractive pension and salary increases but members will receive a lump sum payment to cover some of the increase.

James A. Griffin, president of IBEW Local 1900, said the union’s unease with the “last, best and final offer” wasn’t over money but rather changes Pepco sought to make to members' health and welfare package in exchange for a different appeals process. the union’s ability to enact changes to health and welfare plans that Pepco was seeking to eliminate in exchange for a different appeal process.

The quarrel involved Pepco employees who are crucial to restoring service in outages, a fact the union used to its advantage in negotiations. Pepco has been under fire for years for its poor response to storms, particularly the powerful derecho that hit the area last June. It had little choice but to find a way to settle.

In a letter to IBEW members, the negotiation committee boasted about its contract victory:

Your show of solidarity was clearly the difference. Things changed dramatically once Pepco realized you would not stand for the take-aways they wanted. Health and welfare language now gives us the protection we wanted. We were also able to negotiate limited increases in out of pocket medical costs.

Pepco, meanwhile, said it is "happy" with the agreement but would not go into further detail.