Power plant employees rally; last day of work Oct. 18

October 7, 2013

CARMICHAELS – The last day of work for employees at FirstEnergy’s Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell power plants will be Oct. 18.

FirstEnergy earlier announced it would deactivate the 1,710-megawatt Hatfield’s Ferry plant in Greene County and the 370- megawatt Mitchell Power Plant in Washington County Oct. 9, a move that will eliminate the jobs of 380 workers.

Jim Premoshis, president of the Hatfield’s Ferry local of the Utility Workers Union of America, said Monday that the company informed the union that day the last day for the bulk of the employees at the plants would be Oct. 18.

Twenty-three people will work after that date at Hatfield’s Ferry, but Premoshis said the union was not told whether they would be union or company employees.

Premoshis and other employees at Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell plants rallied Monday afternoon at the home of plant employee Andy Sinclair, who lives near that Hatfield’s Ferry entrance gate.

According to plant workers, the last unit at Hatfield’s Ferry was shut down about 10:20 p.m. Sunday. The plant is no longer producing electricity.

Stephanie Walton, spokeswoman for FirstEnergy, confirmed all units at both Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell had been shut down during the weekend and the last day for most employees will be Oct. 18.

Premoshis and others who attended the rally said the company has kept employees pretty much in the dark. “There’s a lot of bitterness, a lot of unknown; the company has not told us much,” he said.

“It’s sad, everyone has a different situation,” he said. Many of the employees are in their 50s and will have trouble finding new employment. Others are young and have families and mortgages to pay, he said.

“Nobody saw this coming,” Premoshis said. “This came out of the blue.”

FirstEnergy announced in July that it would close the two coal-fired power plants because of the weak demand for electricity, low electricity prices and the costs of bringing the plants into compliance with environmental regulations.

The company said it would try to place employees from the two plants in other jobs throughout the company.

The only jobs mentioned to the employees so far, however, have been as meter readers, which pay only about half that of a plant employee, Premoshis said,

The company is currently negotiating with the UWUA for a system-wide contract and in its last proposal had noted that if the contract was signed by the union by Oct. 18, 142 “job opportunities” could be available.

Workers at the rally, however, put little faith in that assertion.

Walton said the company is still hopeful it can place many of the employees who are losing their jobs in other positions within the company.

Local elected officials have been pushing to keep the plants open and both state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, and state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, attended Monday’s rally.

“I don’t think there’s anything anybody can do to make this company change its mind,” Snyder said. “The only thing they continue to say is that they will be shut down.”

Though there has been talk that a buyer might be available for the plants, Snyder said company officials have said they’ve received no offers.

Company officials also said, however, that they are” not interested” in selling the plants, she said.

Snyder said she and Solobay have done everything they can think of to keep the plants open, including contacting state and federal agencies and writing the president.

She said they had hoped to buy some time to sell the idea of using new technologies to reduce plant emissions and turn the plant into “state-of-the art” coal-fired plants.

This could show there is still a place for coal in this nation’s energy mix, she said. Instead, the company has decided to close the plants.

“These plants are worth something and the people who work in them are worth something,” Snyder said.

Company executives are being paid millions of dollars a year, but the workers, “they cast them aside as if they’re nothing.”

Bob Niedbala worked as a general assignment reporter for the newspaper for 27 years in the Greene County bureau. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pittsburgh.

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