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Southern California Gas Company employees rallied across the state yesterday to protest a proposed labor agreement brought forth by the company’s parent, San Diego-based Sempra Energy. Picketing took place at Sempra facilities in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Compton, Visalia and Redlands.

Sempra employees with the Utility Workers Union of America and the International Chemical Workers Union have been without a contract since the previous agreement expired on November 1. Members say they have rejected the “last, best and final offer” made by the utility, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

According to the unions, the proposal includes wage freezes, an increased reliance on part-time workers, cuts to retirement benefits, and caps on retiree medical coverage. The groups accuse Sempra of unfair labor practices.

“They ignore our proposals; they don't respond to requests for information. They are clearly bargaining in bad faith,” Jerry Acosta, national representative for the UWUA in Los Angeles, told the Visalia Times-Delta.

Sempra says the company is continuing to negotiate. Its proposal, a spokesperson says, includes a 13 percent wage increase over the contract’s 4 ½ year lifespan, 85 percent company-paid health benefits, and increased survivors benefits and post-retirement health benefits.

“The thing to remember here is that our proposals are designed to preserve employee benefits for the long term despite mounting costs for health care and other benefits,” said Denise King, the Southern California Gas Company’s spokesperson. “We are expecting our costs to be 19 percent higher next year than last year and we believe the package we are offering is fair.”

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