After months of weathering management’s aggressive anti-union campaign, a group of Enel Green Power workers in Nevada and Utah won their election to become represented by Local 1245. The company’s union-busting efforts created a tense atmosphere of division and fear, but when the ballots were counted on June 23, the victory went to IBEW by a single vote.
This newly minted bargaining unit consists of control room operators, I&E technicians, and maintenance technicians located at two Enel-owned power plants: the Stillwater plant in Nevada, and the Cove Fort plant in Utah. While the plants are approximately 465 miles apart, the Cove Fort plant is remotely operated by Stillwater’s control room operators, and the staff of both plants mutually relieve or support the other when special projects or coverage shortfalls require it.
Enel Green Power (d.b.a. Enel North America, Inc.) is a multinational renewable energy corporation based in Rome, Italy. Per their website, Enel Green Power has approximately 740 power plants operating in 16 countries and generates power from wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass. Over 90 of these plants are in the US and Canada.
The Stillwater geothermal-solar hybrid plant is located near Fallon, Nevada. With a combined output of 61 MW, its power purchase agreement with the Wynn Las Vegas provides up to 75% of the resort and casino’s peak-power requirements. The Cove Fort plant is located near Beaver, Utah, and is a 25 megawatt capacity geothermal plant; it provides power to Salt River Project, an Arizona utility, under a 20 year power purchase agreement.
The organizing effort began when an Enel employee reached out to IBEW with interest in organizing. After an initial group meeting in early March, the COVID-19 crisis emerged and shelter-in-place orders impeded the ability to have any further union meetings. Despite the challenges, the volunteer organizing committee continued to have union conversations with their coworkers. Authorization card signing began, but shortly thereafter management became aware of the organizing campaign and immediately took action. Suddenly an all-hands anti-union meeting was scheduled and a union busting firm was hired to supply the anti-union rhetoric, which management passed along in letters and handouts to workers:
“We understand that the IBEW Local 1245 out of Vacaville, CA has been trying to get Enel employees to sign away their job rights here.”
“Unions can bring an atmosphere of divisiveness.”
“We understand that many of you have never been through this sort of thing before, and that you have no seen the down-side that comes with paying someone else to do your talking for you.”
In addition to these talking points, management also gave misleading questions for employees to ask IBEW staff, such as “Could I be forced to follow union rules, or tried and fined for violating them?” and “How many members has this union lost over the last several years, and why?” (Note: IBEW Local 1245 membership grew by 18.02% from 2010 to 2018, and has grown by 36.34% since 1972).
Even with pushback from management increasing, the organizing committee held pro-union conference calls and successfully collected authorization cards from three-quarters of the unit. With this proof of support, IBEW filed a petition in April with the National Labor Relations Board, seeking a mail ballot election in mid-May. Management immediately pushed back. It became clear that they would not respect the organizing process in any capacity, as they refused to discuss or stipulate to any of the union’s requested election details – a common tactic anti-union employers use to delay elections. Due to the company’s disagreement with IBEW’s petition, on April 30, the NLRB conducted a hearing by telephone so that the Regional Director could hear the facts of the case and render a Decision And Direction of Election.
During this nine-hour hearing, Enel’s counsel argued that it was inappropriate for both plants to be represented together in the same unit because of the geographic distance between them. IBEW’s counter-argument was that because of the functional integration of the workforces, there was a strong community of interest between both plants. Furthermore, IBEW 1245 already represents a number of bargaining units that cover vastly greater areas (e.g. PG&E, TransCanada).
Far more baffling was the company’s vehement insistence on an in-person election, despite the very obvious danger of COVID-19 for any gatherings. Their argument was that a mail ballot election would somehow be disenfranchising to the workers, despite the fact that such an election would have a ballot sent to each worker’s home and give them several weeks to return it.
Three weeks later, the NLRB Region 32 Director issued a decision, upholding IBEW 1245’s positions on both the method of election and the inclusion of the both plants in the unit. Unfortunately, this delay tactic worked— the company had bought themselves another month to bombard the workforce with anti-union messages, poll and interrogate workers about their stances regarding the union, and recruit an anti-union organizing committee to kill the unionization effort from within.
The week before this decision, a pro-union employee leaked an email from a manager to eight specific employees, asking them to commit to voting No in order to defeat their pro-union coworkers. The letter contained the following:
I have highlighted the 8 of you in this email because after working my way through talking to everyone over the past couple of weeks , there were probably 10 to 12 people that either expressed their outright displeasure on the Union situation or made it clear to me that you were not interested and would vote no. The 8 of you were the most direct with me in that you would support us in getting this voted down.
In simple terms, we need 8 No’s to make this union situation go away and the 8 of you can make this happen. There are a ton of reasons why the Union coming in would not be good for any of us, and I’m not going to spend time on that with you today. I think after talking with all of you, you all have thought it through enough to understand that our challenges are fixable with onsite management and leadership and not with bringing a 3rd party in to negotiate your employment. We will continue to work with HR and our company to find opportunities for everyone and build a path for everyone’s career and there are very few positive things that can come from a Yes vote.
I’m asking you guys to band together, and commit to me and more importantly to each other that you will vote No and you absolutely will turn your ballot in when it is mailed to you. It hasn’t been determined yet that it will happen by mail but we will likely find out this week that it will occur. I don’t ask my teams or people for many things directly like this but this is one of them as I’m genuinely concerned for everyone in the Geo org, especially those who don’t have a voice in this decision. The decision will affect everyone and likely it won’t be a positive effect if it passes. I’d rather we focus our time and energy on positive things and improving and making our projects and your day to day better than the day before.
The 8 of you can speak for everyone in our org with a No vote and I’m asking for that support from you. I strongly encourage the 8 of you to talk to each other and to ensure you’re all committed and on the same team here as I have a feeling some others in the org are not going to vote at all and we cannot afford to let this pass with 4 or 5 yes votes ( I don’t think they have any more than 5 at the most right now). If the 8 of you vote, it doesn’t matter what everyone else does as 8 guarantees us a No vote and we can move on with things that we should be focused on, your careers and our projects making them better.
[Another manager] will be onsite this week talking with each of you as well [employee name redacted], we will get in touch with you via phone) to make sure that you don’t have any concerns or if you’re confused about anything. I care about all 16 people on this vote, and for everyone in our org, but right now I am focusing on the 8 of you to help us end this thing. Feel free to reach out to me if you need me to answer something for you but I’m hoping to get a commitment email back from you so I can sleep better at night. [smile emoji] Thanks and have a great week.
At the time of writing this, Local 1245 has an outstanding Unfair Labor Practice charge against Enel for illegal polling and interrogation, with a determination by NLRB Region 32 pending.
The next several weeks before the election’s vote count were very tense. Management had succeeded in sowing division among the workforce, and there was a period of three weeks during which ballots had been mailed and management could not hold any conversations about the union without violating electioneering rules. The organizing committee took advantage of this time to reassess the support of their coworkers and to make sure pro-union employees returned their ballots.
When Tuesday, June 23 finally came, a vote count was held via Skype. An NLRB field examiner opened ballots and allowed observers and witnesses to examine the signatures on the outer envelopes, and then observe each ballot’s marking, announcing Yes or No after each. The results were evenly distributed 6-6, but to the great relief of the pro-union workers, the last ballot was a Yes. The final tally of ballots was 7-6 in favor of IBEW, with 13 ballots returned out of 16 eligible voters.
There is certainly work to be done moving forward, both in reinforcing worker confidence in their decision to organize and alleviating the tension between the employer and employees. The goal of the organizing committee is to heal both rifts, and create a cooperative balance of power that will protect everyone’s interests.
–Rick Thompson, IBEW International Lead Organizer