Sickout staged by utility workers

first_imgBURBANK – Nearly all of Burbank Water and Power union electrical workers called in sick Thursday, in what officials called an outbreak of “blue flu” spurred by a continuing impasse in contract negotiations. Some 150 line crew members, electricians and workers in communications in the power plant and dispatch shop called in sick – out of a total electrical union workforce of about 160 – about 8 a.m., leading officials to enact contingency plans to keep power going to 45,000 homes and 6,000 businesses. “I’m not pleased that there’s been this kind of action while we’re still at the negotiating table,” said Burbank City Manager Mary Alvord. “Sure I’m disappointed. This is serious business. A lot of people in this city could be put at risk.” No power was disrupted, but some work orders scheduled for Thursday had to be canceled, including work on Media Studios North business park buildings where some 700 Yahoo! employees are expected to start moving in Monday, said Ron Davis, BWP’s general manager. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “It’s an inconvenience to the community,” said Davis. “It’s not like it took anyone’s power out. For one day, it’s not the end of the world. But once you go past 24 hours, I have a difficult time continuing operations.” Leaders of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 did not return repeated calls for comment. One worker, who declined to be identified, said the work action was voluntary and was not sanctioned by the union. “This did not happen, as far as the union’s concerned,” said the worker. “Each member took it upon themselves to call in sick. We’re trying to make a statement. We take great pride in our work.” Union members, he said, are expected to vote on a contract proposal next Wednesday, but he is doubtful it will be approved. “We don’t want to strike,” he said. “We enjoy our jobs. We enjoy working for the city.” Some 1,000 city employees have been working without a contract since July. Union leaders are asking for an increase in pension benefits. Union workers currently get 2 percent of their annual salary times the number of years they’ve worked when they retire at age 55. They want 2.5 percent, which would boost the average annual pension from $14,600 to $20,000. Boosting pensions would help attract and retain workers in a competitive job market, union leaders say. The proposed pension increase would boost pension costs $1.7 million a year, said Judie Sarquiz, the city’s management services director. The city’s total annual payroll for the 1,000 employees covered by three unions – the Burbank City Employees Association, the Burbank Managers Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 – is about $61 million a year, she said. Jason Kandel, (818) 546-3306 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more