CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Dominion's natural gas and interstate transmission subsidiaries have locked out 915 union employees in six states over what the company said is the union's refusal to have its members vote on a tentative four-year contract.
Dominion said in a news release that the lockout was effective Wednesday for United Gas Workers Union Local 69 members working at Dominion Hope and Dominion Transmission in Ohio, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
The statement said union members can't return to work until it's ratified. An earlier labor contract expired April 1.
Local President Craig Bradford called the lockout illegal. He said the union offered Tuesday not to strike in return for the company agreeing not to lock out workers.
"They never even responded when they locked us out," he said.
Bradford said both sides are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator Thursday in Clarksburg.
He said progress in the talks "would depend on the reasonability of both parties. I can assure you that the union is prepared to bargain in good faith. This lockout really has us worried. We have a genuine concern for the general public. One of the main factors we considered in deciding not to strike ... was the public's safety. Nobody can operate this system like the (union) can."
During the lockout, the companies will use supervisors and other non-union contractors and temporary workers.
"Given the actions of the union leadership, we feel we have no other choice with the heating season approaching," Dominion Hope vice president and general manager Jeff Murphy and Dominion Transmission vice president for pipeline operations Brian Sheppard said in the statement. "The uncertainty of the labor situation could leave our customers literally out in the cold. We cannot let that happen, so our companies have had to make a very difficult decision. We are taking the steps necessary to ensure continued safe operations and reliable service."
Bradford said a union council met after the agreement was signed Aug. 26 and rejected the pact in part over proposals saying upcoming new hires would lose medical insurance upon their retirement and their pensions would be replaced with a cash savings plan. The rejection meant the proposal never made it to union membership.
The agreement would give union workers 2.5 percent raises in 2016 and 2017 and 2.75 percent raises in 2018 and 2019.
Bradford said more than half of the companies' union workers are in West Virginia.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.