COURT HOUSE – Atlantic City Electric workers are in the fourth week of a strike for better health benefits and improvements to pensions.
The workers, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 210, are also seeking more protection when it comes to the issue of subcontractor work.
Adding to the drama of the walkout, which began on Sunday, Nov. 5, were the state Board of Public Utilities’ approval of a rate hike for the utility and a decision by Atlantic City Electric and its parent company, Exelon, to remove health benefits from the workers while they are on strike.
In initiating the strike, the union stated that “corporate greed affects our wages, our benefits and our careers.” The union said that Atlantic City Electric is raising rates “while enjoying massive profits.”
The company says that it negotiated in good faith and presented a fair offer as the contract expired on Nov. 2. It added that it warned union leadership that workers could face loss of health-care benefits while on strike.
The decision by the utility to remove the health benefits just prior to the start of the holiday season, and also to remove Veterans Day from the list of fixed holidays, drew the attention of U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd). Van Drew called the strike more than a dispute between business and labor, describing the company’s decision to withhold health benefits as “woke nonsense.”
The congressman took a shot at the utility’s parent company, Exelon, when he added that Atlantic City Electric’s contract negotiations would not have happened in the way that they did if the utility “was still locally owned and operated.” Exelon bought Atlantic City Electric’s parent company in 2016 for $6.83 billion.
Atlantic City Electric said it had not removed Veterans Day as a holiday, because any employee wishing to celebrate it can use a floating holiday that is part of their package. Since then the company says it has reached “a tentative agreement to make Veterans Day a fixed holiday for IBFW Local 210 employees. The offer increases the total holidays for most employees by one day a year.”
The utility added that the company is strongly supportive of veterans, as evidenced by its expanded military leave policy and expanded active-duty health coverage.
In his statement on the strike, Van Drew also pointed to the fact that Atlantic City Electric raised its rates earlier this year and is about to do so again. He challenged Exelon, saying that workers deserved “the stability of a fair contract, especially at a time when we are making record investments in our infrastructure.”
The Rate Increase
The rate increase Van Drew referred to was approved by the BPU at its November meeting, which occurred after workers went on strike. In an email, Candice Wormer, senior communication specialist for Pepco Holdings, also an Exelon company, said, “Based on the approval, the typical customer using 643 kilowatt hours per month will see a monthly increase of 4.14%, or about $6.09, that will go into effect in two phases.”
Wormer added that the initial increase of $5.16 would begin on Friday, Dec. 1, with an additional increase of $0.93 beginning in February 2024. Asked how customers are being notified of the rate increase, she said, “Customers receive an insert in their bill once the approval is filed that contains information on the approved increase and its effective date.”
In a spring filing regarding 2023 rate increases, the BPU states that Atlantic City Electric argued its current rates were inadequate for the company to “maintain financial viability.” The company also cited its need to recoup increased investments in its rate base, specifically identified as capital investments related to a portfolio of reliability projects across South Jersey.
In 2022, when Atlantic City Electric announced the smart meter initiative and its network upgrades, the announcement was carefully worded to state that the meter initiative carried no “upfront” costs; the costs would be recouped in rates after the completion of the installations. The new two-phase rate hike beginning Dec. 1 includes, among other actions, the meter and Smart Network upgrades in 2022 and early 2023.
As the strike continues and the rate increases go into effect, Atlantic City Electric is using contract employees to fill in for union workers. Thus far the company reports that it has been able to restore service during outages with no safety incidents. One such event was a winter storm on Tuesday, Nov. 21, which impacted more than 6,500 customers.
Contact the author, Vince Conti, at firstname.lastname@example.org.