United Mine Workers picketers gather for a last-minute briefing before forming the line Saturday.
Members of the United Mine Workers of America, including workers from the Deer Creek coal mine and Hunter Station coal preparation plant, conducted an informational picket on Friday in front of the Salt Lake home of PacifiCorp Energy President and CEO Micheal Dunn.
Thirty-seven active and retired members carried placards on the sidewalk in front of the home to call attention to Dunn's role in the "management's proposal to cut safety provisions, cut health care for retired and active workers and eliminate pensions for some employees," according to a union release.
"Things went pretty well," said UMWA District 22 International Representative Lou Shelley, who attended the picket. "We had a good turnout despite 104 degree weather and saw quite a few people pass along Wasatch Boulevard."
According to Shelley, the major point of contention in the ongoing UWMA - Energy West contract negotiation is the company's insistence that the workers and pensioners take a 70/30 split on healthcare costs. The new plan would call for a split in premium costs as well.
"For 40 years, the UMWA has taken lower wages during contract negotiations in order to keep medical coverage for our workers and those who have retired. Now they want that too," said Shelley. "They say it's about principle but that's because they can't say it's about money."
PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway/MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., reported profits of $1.3 billion in 2011. A profit margin that has reportedly strengthened the union's resolve.
"Our pensioners on a fixed income can not afford for this to happen to their healthcare," said Shelley.
The collective bargaining agreement between MidAmerican, the parent company of Energy West, and UMWA miners and employees, expired in early January. The two sides have been embroiled in a tense negotiation since.
In May, more than 50 active, retired and widowed members of the UMWA left Carbon County to picket Berkshire Hathaway's annual stockholders meeting and the corporate offices of MidAmerican Energy in Iowa.
While officials representing MidAmerican would not address specific questions concerning the negotiations, they did provide the following statement this spring:
"Energy West Mining Company is bargaining in good faith with union leadership and has been for several months," said Maria O'Mara, spokesperson for Energy West Mining Company. "Both have made many proposals that have been discussed. Energy West Mining is committed to a resolution that is fair to both employees and customers, protects our commitment to safety and keeps costs competitive."
Another union negotiating with subsidiaries of MidAmerican in Utah, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers accepted a new contract with PacifiCorp via a June 18 vote.