Enstar, the state's largest natural gas utility, has reached a tentative agreement with a union representing about 150 of its full-time and part-time workers. The United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 367 had been threatening a potential strike since negotiations stalled last month.
The union and Enstar came to a new, tentative agreement Thursday. The potential contract must still be voted on by Local 367 members. Union business manager Greg Walker said that he expects the vote to be taken within the next 10 days. Walker would not comment on the details of the contract agreement, but he hinted that the negotiation process did not end with an ideal solution for Enstar employees represented by the union.
"We made some significant movement that was very hard for us to make, and we made that movement in an effort to get the company to move as well," Walker said.
Chuck Dunagan, an Anchorage attorney on the union negotiating team, said that the contract was "good enough" to take to members for a vote. But Dunagan would not say if his negotiating team is actually recommending its members pass the tentative agreement with Enstar.
"We told Enstar that if they wanted us to cheerlead a contract, that it must contain several things," Dunagan said. "And those things are not in this current contract."
Dunagan said that one major concession made by the union was an agreement that any new Enstar employees it represents will be moved to a defined contribution or 401(k)-type retirement plan from the current defined benefits (pension) plan members now enjoy.
Enstar would not comment on the contract agreement or whether it thought that there could be any more meaningful negotiations if the Local 367 members vote against it.
"I think when you look at what a tentative agreement is, that it is the understanding that it works for both the union and the company," Enstar public information officer John Sims said.
Union members have already voted to strike but have not followed through with a work stoppage. The threat of a walk-off is still hovering over the process if the tentative agreement reached Thursday afternoon is not ratified.
"Enstar has drawn a line in the sand," Dunagan said. "It will be difficult moving on from this, and we wanted to get a referendum from members before we decide what our next step should be."
Enstar has more than 137,000 residential and commercial customers across Southcentral Alaska, from the Kenai Peninsula to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
Correction: An earlier version of this story swapped the definitions of defined benefits and defined contribution.