Xcel Energy electrical workers could strike without a new employment deal

· Jul. 20, 2023, 7:36 pm
Closed Valmont Power StationClosed Valmont Power StationHart Van Denburg/CPR News
The now-closed Valmont Power Station owned by Xcel Energy in unincorporated Boulder County, June 15, 2023.

After months of failed negotiations, a union representing nearly 2,000 Xcel Energy workers in Colorado and Wyoming could authorize a strike as soon as July 31.

That’s when the current contract between employees and the company expires. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 111 is currently bargaining for a new agreement. It says Xcel Energy refuses to offer fair wages or a plan to avoid excessive hours for workers who repair gas lines. 

In addition, Xcel Energy plans to stop burning coal in Colorado by 2031. Gutierrez, the business manager for IBEW Local 111, said the union supports the transition away from fossil fuels, but the company hasn’t detailed how it will help retrain or reassign impacted workers. 

For example, Gutierrez said the company recently backed out of a union-backed plan to repurpose a power plant in Hayden, Colo. as a molten-salt energy storage facility. The company first pitched the idea in 2021 when the power station employed around 70 people. It’s now on schedule to shut down in 2028. 

“The lack of movement in the last session is, unfortunately, getting us closer to an impasse, which allows us for the next steps to become a reality,” Gutierrez said. 

The negotiations come after Xcel Energy collected a record $1.7 billion in profit in 2022, drawing almost half of that net earnings from its customers in Colorado. 

Executive pay has skyrocketed along with the returns for shareholders. Recent federal filings show former Xcel Energy CEO Ben Fowke collected more than $140 million in compensation between 2011 and 2020. Current CEO Bob Frenzel earned more than $10 million in 2022. 

The typical company employee earned about $120,000 last year, representing a CEO-to-employee ratio of 86 to 1. 

“That number is tough to choke down,” said Chuck Carrera, the president of the union and a lineman for Xcel Energy.  

Michell Aguayoa, a spokesperson for the company, said Xcel is negotiating in good faith and hopes to continue to make progress before the end of the month. 

“Xcel Energy is committed to providing safe, reliable service. We remain respectful of the negotiating process, with continued plans to meet with representatives at the bargaining table,” Aguayo said.

If the two parties reach an impasse, the union would then take a strike vote. The result could be a lack of employees capable of responding to a gas or power outage. In such a scenario, Gutierrez acknowledged the company might not have adequate staff to respond to emergencies like a downed powerline. 

“These are dangers to our communities,” he said. “Let’s get this thing done so that’s a question we don’t have to answer.”

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