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Penelec Lock Out Continues as Contract Negotiations Stall

As wintry weather continues to affect much of the area, workers at one local Pennsylvania power company claim they’re not able do their jobs to make sure the power stays on.

ALTOONA, Pa. - About 150 Penelec union workers in Shippensburg, Altoona and Lewistown have been locked out from their jobs since Monday after contract negotiations broke down.

"They told us that we were trespassing and to get off their property," said Robert Whalen, president of Utility Workers Union of America, Local 102.

Penelec, which is owned by FirstEnergy, says they offered union members a final contract offer on November 6. They say the union failed to respond by the November 24 deadline, putting the lock out in place.

"Essentially they're not allowed to work right now,” said Penelec Representative Scott Surgeoner. “The contract has expired. We're not allowing them to work."

At the center of the dispute lies the issue of pensions and retiree benefits, which will expire at the end of 2014.

Whalen says one of the reasons why they oppose the new contract is because it does not provide enough information about how the pension system would work. He says the lack of a detailed pension plan could potentially allow Penelec to abuse the system after they have already signed.

FirstEnergy says they have been telling employees since 2009 that retiree health care contributions would no longer be offered after they expire. But that is just another reason why the union is against the new contract.

"I have a disabled son at home who depends on 24/7 coverage, two women have to come and take care of him. Health care is a very important issue,” said Penelec employee Mutro Mazarak. “We give our hearts and our souls to our company and our communities and we're being treated unfairly”

Employees say they want to go back to work. However, Penelec says the union gave them no other option but to put the lock out in place.

The company has brought in contractors and put supervisors in the field to fill in the gaps, but union members say it won't be the same without them.

"There's no way this group of skeleton workers in this building is equipped to handle a storm, and get the lights back on anywhere near as quickly as what we can," said Whalen.

Penelec says some meter readings will have to be based on estimates for now because of the lock out. Other than that, they say customers should not notice a difference. 

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