DENVER — Contract negotiations between Xcel Energy and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 111, which represents nearly 1,900 Xcel employees, are inching closer to a July deadline that could lead to a strike.
Union members are concerned about wages, a forced on-call system where gas employees work an average of 1,000 hours of overtime each year and the future of employees at coal power plants. This comes at a time when Xcel is asking for another controversial rate increase and is facing lawsuits from Marshall Fire survivors.
The union says Xcel offered the same wage increase as its other service areas in Texas and Minnesota, where the cost of living is significantly lower.
“Not only that, but the geographical difference. It's a lot harder to build power lines or trench in some gas lines through our mountainous areas,” said Nathaniel Gutierrez, a business manager for IBEW Local 111.
IBEW Local 111 says Xcel has offered an increase of 13%, but the union believes workers need an industry standard increase closer to 20%.
Union members are fried knowing Xcel’s profits have tripled and the CEO’s salary topped $10.3 million last year — a 23% increase.
“They're looking at you like you're the bad one, like you're the one trying to take food out of their family's mouths. And it's disappointing,” Chuck Carrera, an Xcel Energy lineman, told Denver7.
Carrera has worked for Xcel for 22 years and serves as president of the union. He described a special set of skills he and other union members must have to work with high voltage electricity that often sends them to dangerous locations.
“We are the ones that show up on the fire calls, are the ones that show up on the car versus poles, somebody digs into an underground mine,” he said. “You're climbing poles that were installed in the early 1900s, and you don't necessarily know the stability of them.”
Negotiations between the union and Xcel have dragged on for four months — over 23 sessions and 150 proposal exchanges — but a deal has not been reached.
If Xcel and the union cannot move from their positions by July 30, members can vote to strike.
“Our communities are going to suffer. These individuals are very skilled at what they do. Not just anybody off the street can go climb that pole and change out that transformer and understand how to handle high voltage power lines,” Gutierrez said.
Denver7 reached out to Xcel Energy for comment on negotiations. In a statement, the company said it remains "respectful of the negotiating process."
“We would like to continue making progress. 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.”