Fifty-year-old John Milburn does not want to wait another 12 years to retire from Dominion Virginia Power to receive full benefits.
"We do pretty hard work out here," said the lead lineman as he held a sign indicating the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 50 labor union is still on strike. "It takes an effect on your body. It's not an eight-hour job you could work and go home. I don't think the company sees that."
Milburn and another 39 union employees from the Dominion Virginia Power plant in Leesburg joined in the union-wide strike against the company's proposed labor contract. The employees set up two shade tents and two large signs in front of the red brick building on Sycolin Road.
"They changed our retirement and some other benefits," said Milburn, who has been with the company for 30 years. "They forced it down their throats," he said in reference to non-union employees. "They had to take it. We're a union. We don't have to take it."
Union shop steward Doug Shafer agreed. "I'd like to be able to quit one of these days," said the underground lineman who has been with the company for 26 years and lives in Lovettsville.
Shafer said passersby have been supportive of the strike. "They're blowing their horn, waving all the time, giving us water and food," he said.
THE STRIKE began at noon on Aug. 2, a day after the company submitted the proposed contract to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 50 labor union. A dispute between the company and the union arose over the retirement benefits and pension plan outlined in the proposed contract. About 3,300 union employees joined in the strike. The company has a total of 17,000 employees.
Dominion Virginia Power and the union began negotiating a new labor contract in January, since the contract at the time was due to expire on April 1. Dominion Virginia Power and the union agreed to temporarily extend the contract that was ratified in 1995. The contract lasted for three years with two, two-year extensions.
"The contract expired all together when the union left the negotiating table and went on strike," said Le-ha Anderson, manager for media and community relations for Dominion Virginia Power.
Dominion Virginia Power proposed a five-year contract with a 16.5 percent wage increase over five years, pushing the average annual base salary of union employees to $52,000. The contract included improved health care benefits and a comprehensive retirement program with the current pension formula, Anderson said.
The union submitted a new contract proposal on Aug. 9, now under review by Dominion Virginia Power. Once the review is completed, Dominion Virginia Power plans to ask the mediator for the company and the union to schedule another meeting. In the meantime, union members plan to strike seven days a week.
"We want our union employees back to work, but in the meantime, we have a contingency plan that has worked very well," Anderson said. "Our customers won't be affected by the strike."
Dominion Virginia Power has 13 power plants in Virginia, including nuclear, coal fire, combustion turbine and hydro plants. The labor union includes linemen, groundsmen, meter readers, plant or station operators and electricians.