by KIM HILSENBECK
The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) recently settled a case out of court after employees of the firm filed charges that the firm violated federal labor law by threatening and interrogating employees about union organizing activities. PEC employees are not currently unionized.
Preventing employees from organizing a union is prohibited under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.
According to documents filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), charges against PEC included: interrogating employees about their union activities; orally promulgating and prohibiting employee discussions about the union during work; threatening termination if employees discussed union organizational activity while they were working; interrogating an employee about union sympathies; soliciting employee complaints and promising increased benefits and improved working conditions if they refrained from organizational activity; and implicitly threatening employees with reprisals for union activity and sympathies.
According to Tim Watson, NLRB regional attorney, the charges were independently investigated.
“We found in this case that the law was violated,” Watson said.
In the Sept. 26 settlement, the day the case was headed to court, PEC admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to several conditions including changes to its employee policy manual, according to Kay Jarvis, PEC spokesperson.
PEC must also post on official board notice – the Confirmed Notice for Employees flyer from NLRB – stating the list of things the company will not do.
“We will not make coercive statements in response to our employees’ union activities” and “We will not threaten our employees for engaging in union activities.”
According to Watson, 20,000 charges of unfair labor practices are filed every year in the United States.
“Our role is to educate the public and private sector employees about their rights under the law,” Watson said.
The settlement also included reinstating lost wages of an employee who was disciplined for violating company policy.
That employee, Gary Alvarez, has been with PEC for 11 years as a lineman. He currently works at the Kyle branch of the firm. He was instrumental in trying to organize a labor union at the firm.
According to Larry Hayes, union organizer for International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW), PEC linemen held a vote in January of this year to join IBEW, one of the largest and oldest electrical worker unions in the United States and Canada.
The vote failed 126 to 78, but Alvarez said he expects another round of voting in the near future.
Hayes confirmed that PEC employees are calling him again to start another campaign, possibly as soon as next month.
He said management likes to tell employees that unions are bad, but he said they actually make companies better because they protect employees.
“A union is a partner. We help bring stability, higher production, happy workers and higher morale to companies because the employees know they have a voice,” Hayes said. “And happy employees mean higher profits.”
Hayes said today’s employees can thank unions for things such as safety programs at companies, child labor laws and five-day/40-hour work weeks.
CEO R.B. Sloan commented on why PEC wanted to settle.
“I heard loud and clear from a number of employees that they are ready to put the rancor created by past union activity behind them so that they can concentrate on doing what they do best – working together as a team to provide superior member service. That is what PEC has done,” said Sloan.
The grievances against PEC, said Alvarez, are that nothing has changed since the vote in January.
“We have more chance of winning the vote this time,” Alvarez said, “because nothing has changed.”
Alvarez said the company is still trying to intimidate employees into voting against unionization.
He contends that employees want more respect, to be treated better and to have their voices heard by management.
“’Employees have had enough,” he said.