A union that represents electrical workers in Florida says Duke Energy wants to cut the health and life insurance benefits of union retirees as the utility did with nonunion retirees earlier this fall.
In addition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents about 1,900 of the 4,000 Duke employees in the state, says the utility wants to eliminate spouse benefits of current workers, restrict holiday benefits and reduce sick pay for employees.
Most troubling to the union is language proposed by Duke that would essentially end any effectiveness the union might have for its Duke workers in the state.
The proposed language states: "Duke Energy retains the right to amend, modify or terminate its benefits plans in any respect and at any time, and neither its benefits, nor your plan participation will be considered a contract for future employment," according the union's website.
Edward Mobsby Jr., business manager for the IBEW, declined to comment on the ongoing bargaining because, he said, union representatives and the utility agreed "we're not going to negotiate through the press. We're working very hard to obtain a contract."
The current contract expires Dec. 2 with a provision to extend it for 60 days if the parties choose.
"Duke Energy has presented a fair and competitive contract proposal to the union and looks forward to positive, productive, ongoing negotiations," said Dave Scanzoni, a Duke spokesman. "As negotiations progress, Duke Energy continues to provide reliable, dependable electric service to its Florida customers, 24/7 — and will do so in 2014 and the years ahead."
Negotiations appear to have grown increasingly tense since they began Oct. 15.
"We're going to have a 'train wreck' at the end of negotiations if we don't get the language we want," the union on its website quoted Duke as saying. "We are willing to force the employees to strike, in order to get what we want."
Scanzoni said Duke would not confirm the veracity of the statements because the negotiations are confidential.
In September, Duke announced that nonunion retirees 65 or older will not receive health insurance coverage directly from the utility starting Jan. 1, part of a growing trend by businesses to reduce costs.