The ENSTAR strike has lasted two weeks, and there’s no end in sight. Local workers are picketing in front of ENSTAR offices around Anchorage and around the Kenai Peninsula. They’re having a dispute with the management over retirement benefits for both present and future workers.
A couple dozen workers stand in front of the ENSTAR Operations Center in Anchorage holding signs and waving to passing cars. Some of trucks and cabs honk in support.
The strikers aren’t allowed to talk to the media and refer all questions to Local 367 Business Manager Greg Walker.
Walker says the 120 operating members are striking to protect their pensions. He explains that the company only wants to provide 401(k)s for new hires and current employees are worried that they’ll cut their pension plans next.
“The pension plan is well-funded. They’ve gotten great returns on the pension plan investments, so it’s not costing the company any money. Our position is that defined benefit plan provides a well-rounded future for anyone who retires with ENSTAR.”
The union and the company had come to a tentative agreement on the issue earlier this month, but the operating workers voted it down and decided to strike. The clerical workers did not.
Walker says the union has also filed charges against the natural gas company with the National Labor Relations Board. They allege the company hasn’t provided accurate information about the pension plan and they are discriminating against employees who filed actions against them under the National Labor Relations Act.
ENSTAR representatives declined to talk about the strike or the negotiations. The only comment on how the company is being affected comes from their automatic answering service.
“Our ENSTAR offices are temporarily closed to walk in customers,” the recorded voice says when you dial their main number.
That means you have to pay your bill online, by mail, or over the phone.
Walker says the workers are in it the for the long-haul and haven’t given up hope that the strike will be effective.
“Members are strong as ever. The community support is incredible. And we’re going to continue to fight.”
But he says they would all rather be back at work. Temporary hires from Michigan are currently filling their slots. Walker says the union members have agreed to return to work in the case of an emergency. Two left the picket line to help contain a gas leak last week.