COLUMBUS — Proponents of recently passed House Bill 6 pitched the legislation as a way to save good-paying jobs at Ohio’s two nuclear power plants.
Workers at both plants and residents of the communities were frequent visitors to the Statehouse, testifying at Senate and House hearings about how important those plants were to them.
Now, FirstEnergy Solutions, the owner of those plants, is seeking to throw out the deal it has with labor unions that covers workers at the Perry plant in Ohio along with a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania as part of its bankruptcy reorganization, according to a labor union filing last week in the bankruptcy case. The Davis-Besse plant near Toledo is not part of the filing.
“Obviously, FirstEnergy [Solutions] cares more about its friends on Wall Street that the workers at the two facilities,” state Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, and an opponent of the bill, said Monday.
Leland questioned whether the legislation, which passed with the help of Democrats, would have gotten their support had they known the company wanted to end the labor agreement.
“It was all untrue,” Leland said of the company’s contention that it wanted to protect those jobs. “They waited until after the billion-dollar bailout occurred until we found about it.”
The law imposes a fee of 85 cents on residential electricity customers in Ohio from 2021 through 2027. It is expected to generate about $170 million a year through 2027 with about $150 million of that supporting the nuclear plants, or nearly $1 billion over that period.
FirstEnergy Solutions, the former power generation arm of Akron-based FirstEnergy, repeatedly said that without the help it would start the process of shutting down the Perry and Davis-Besse plants in northern Ohio.
Since the bill passed, a petition drive has been launched in an effort to overturn the law, with the goal of taking it before voters in November 2020.
The company declined to comment Monday, but bankruptcy court filings show the dispute is primarily about pensions.
In the court filing, unions representing workers at the plants say their agreements with the company contain provisions that require those agreements to be honored if there is a transfer to a new entity. In this case, the new entity is FirstEnergy Solutions.
FirstEnergy laid out its position to the bankruptcy court on July 23, the same day House Bill 6 passed and was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine.
FirstEnergy Solutions says it’s impossible to honor the existing agreements and that it needs to negotiate new ones because it can’t replicate the benefits that FirstEnergy provides.
But the unions say that isn’t the case.
If a worker who retired under the current pension plan would get $2,000 a month, for example, the existing agreement between the union and the company would require that the worker receive basically the same pension, the union said.
“Indeed, this is exactly how transitions have occurred regarding these bargaining units and others acquired by the debtors or their corporate parent,” the union said.