As Enstar labor dispute continues, allegations fly

Sean Doogan
Employees picket outside Enstar's Spenard Road headquarters in Anchorage on Monday, Aug. 11. About 100 employees of Enstar Natural Gas Co. remained on strike as of Thursday, Aug. 14. Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News

As it entered its fourth day Thursday, a strike by about 100 Enstar employees seemed no closer to a resolution than it did when it began on Monday.

Enstar's operational employees, represented by Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 367, rejected the Southcentral Alaska natural gas utility's final contract offer last week. About 50 Enstar clerical employees represented by the union accepted Enstar's offer and have been encouraged to return to work, according to Local 367 negotiation spokesman Chuck Dunnagan.

The union has filed a half-dozen unfair labor practice complaints, according to Dunnagan, including claims of intimidation by Enstar managers and a dispute over where union members are allowed to stand as they picket outside Enstar's Spenard Road headquarters in Anchorage. The strike has also led to three Wednesday press releases from the union with claims that Enstar has shirked its responsibility to check Anchorage schools for potential gas leaks and mishandled the repair of a ruptured 4-inch gas pipe in Wasilla on Tuesday morning.

"The danger to the public was increased by (Local 367 operational employees) not being there, and the time of the fix was probably increased by them not being there," Dunnagan said.

The union claims that Enstar was non-responsive when Quality Asphalt and Paving employees tried to contact the utility after rupturing a gas line near the Parks Highway. Union representatives said its members told Enstar last week they would temporarily stop picketing and go back to work in the event of an emergency, but they were not called on to help stop the Wasilla leak, which caused a half-hour closure of the Parks Highway as crews worked to stop it. The union claims it took Enstar an hour to fully stop the leak.

The utility told Alaska Dispatch News on Tuesday that its crews pinched off the ruptured line shortly after arriving on the scene at about 9:15 a.m. and that all work was complete by 10 a.m., about an hour after Enstar was notified of the leak.

"Enstar stands behind the information reported and will continue to provide safe and reliable service," Enstar spokesman John Sims said Thursday.

Sims said crews from an Enstar subcontractor, Rappe Construction, had the leak under control quickly after arriving on the scene.

The union is also claiming Enstar has not yet done its yearly gas leak check of Anchorage public schools.

The Anchorage School District said it does not require the checks and that Enstar routinely does them without contacting ASD officials.

Sims said the checks have already been done for the year.

"They are finished," Sims said. "And it is important to note that Enstar does this on its own volition, going above the requirements of federal laws."

The union claims come as its operational employees picket Enstar offices in Anchorage, Kenai and Wasilla.

Enstar has repeatedly said it will not comment on the labor dispute.

According to the union, the main sticking point in negotiations has been a dispute over Enstar's offer to change retirement and benefit packages for all new employees from a defined benefit (pension) plan to a defined 401(k)-style contribution plan.

When asked how long the strike may continue, Dunnagan was clear: "We are in it for the long term," he said.

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