Magic Valley linemen talking union: Co-op says it’s unclear how that would affect rates

MERCEDES — Some Magic Valley Electrical Co-op linemen think it’s time to union up.

Some linemen are concerned with their treatment and safety and say they are overworked, said Jason Simpson, lead organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 66.

According to a Co-op statement, the company strongly believes that its employees are better served by remaining union-free so the company and its employees can work together to resolve issues and improve the workplace.

“Our mission is to provide safe, affordable and reliable power,” said John Herrera, Co-op general manager. “Safety for all of our employees and our community is our number one priority.”

Herrera said the Co-op cannot predict what effect, if any, unionization would have on the price of energy to the consumer.

“Unfortunately like any business, if the cost of providing our services increases as a result, then yes there is a chance the cost of energy to customers could be affected,” the statement said.

The Co-op has approximately 97,000 members and about 112,000 meters.

IBEW contacted Magic Valley Electric Cooperative to voluntarily recognize the IBEW as the exclusive bargaining representative for its employees in the operations department.

The department includes 54 linemen.

“If we are required to negotiate with the union, we would of course try to do what’s best for our members,” Herrera said.

The IBEW filed a petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.

The election would allow the linemen to vote on the question of unionizing.

Herrera said the Co-op has asked NLRB to determine whether lead linemen are supervisors. It asked that the board make its decision before the election is held so the Co-op can stay in full compliance with the law and so there would be no confusion during the election.

The NLRB will determine if the 14 lead linemen are supervisors. If so, that would disqualify them from voting in the election to unionize the operations department.

“The number of linemen who will be eligible to vote in the election has not yet been determined by the National Labor Relations Board,” Herrera said.

A hearing took place in July and the lead linemen were interviewed to determine if their responsibilities qualified them as supervisors.

Simpson said the NLRB has up to 30 days to make a decision on whether lead linemen are supervisors.

Simpson said he was contacted in June because somebody from Magic Valley had contacted the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to gather more information about what it means to organize.

“They are putting their life on the line every day,” Simpson said. “It’s an overwhelming dedication the linemen have for the company and the people to keep the light on.”

Herrera said, “While we do not believe our linemen are treated unfairly and do believe they are assigned an appropriate amount of work, we take our employee concerns very seriously and make changes when warranted.”