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Florida Power says contract talks fruitful

Florida Power Corp. and the union representing 2,100 of its 4,500 workers have made progress in their negotiations on a new contract, company president Bill Habermeyer said Monday.

"I remain optimistic that we're going to reach a settlement on this," he said. "Both sides are bargaining hard and both sides are bargaining in good faith."

Union representatives couldn't be reached for comment.

The current three-year contract expires Dec. 1. Negotiators for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hope to wrap up talks by Thursday to ensure they have enough time to distribute copies of the contract before a hoped-for vote next Monday.

The St. Petersburg utility and its union have tentatively resolved most non-economic issues, such as how to schedule workers who are on call, Habermeyer said. But he added that a major sticking point remains the company's proposal to replace its current defined-benefit pension plan with a "cash-balance" plan. He also said talks about wage increases will continue this week.

Habermeyer, who became president of Florida Power two years ago promising improved service and reliability, said these goals were an important motivation behind the company's contract proposals.

"Work rules have to have the same degree of customer service at its foundation," he said. "Our employees, I'm sure, feel the same way."

In an internal company memo circulated this month, the company's negotiating team said the company would "evaluate" the option of bringing in non-union employees from Florida Power's sister company Carolina Power & Light in the event of a strike.

Habermeyer declined to comment on the company's contingency plans, saying only that it was "premature to say exactly who we'd bring in," and adding that, "I look forward to an agreement."