EES board approves union contract

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

The Elizabethton Electric System board, at its monthly meeting Tuesday, approved a three-year union contract for members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who work at the facility.
   Randy Jones, business director of the IBEW's regional office in Kingsport, said he was pleased the board endorsed the contract, but emphasized a trend in recent years to remove benefits for union employees.
   "It started three years ago when they took away lifetime insurance for employees. We had to take up concessions on that, and we lost the TVA wage, too. This time, we asked for the TVA wage increase again because other area utilities adhere to it. We ended up agreeing to a 2.6 percent cost of living raise instead, hoping they wouldn't cut more out of insurance," Jones said.
   According to Jones, IBEW workers now pay $20 every pay period toward health insurance premiums, a figure he says has doubled from $10 the past three years.
   The board unanimously approved the contract. EES board member, Shirley Hughes, clarified her position on employee health insurance to those present at the monthly meeting. "I'm not an advocate of taking anything away from these employees; my position on this is that if we can shop and get a better opportunity as far as spending money more wisely (that's what we should do)...I just want to make that clear to these employees," Hughes said.
   Although the union contract was supported, the board delayed approval of the proposed EES budget for 2002-2003 until next week while General Manager Phil Isaacs gathers more information to reduce insurance costs, he said.
   "We were looking at an increase of 10.5 percent (in insurance premiums) and now I've got it down to about 6.5 percent, so I've been able to knock about four percent off of that increase. I don't want to rush this process. I think we have plenty of time to defer the approval of the budget," Isaacs told the board.
   Isaacs stated that sales were down by five percent this year, but that EES has reached its net income. "We've been trying to hold our own and keep our expenses down, even with the huge maintenance expense we had last summer. We hope the weather will be kinder to us this year," he said.
   Due to the recent closing of the Alcoa aluminum plant, EES anticipates an estimated $200,000 net loss of revenue.