By Brandon Roberts
A breakdown in contract negotiations between Hawaiian Electric Company and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 has led the company’s 1,300 unionized employees to strike.
The walk-off occurred at 3:30 p.m. Friday, just as a new storm front crept into the islands and left thousands on Oahu without power.
Molokai — as well as Lanai, Maui, Big Island and Oahu — is affected by the strike.
“Non-union employees of Hawaiian Electric Company, Maui Electric Company and Hawaii Electric Light Company will be operating the companies’ electric systems during the union’s work stoppage and every effort will be made to maintain reliable electric service during this time,” read a statement from HECO.
“We apologize for any inconvenience our customers may experience,” said Dick Rosenblum, HECO president and CEO.
“We know a strike is hard on everyone, and we will continue to keep lines of communication open so that we can resume normal levels of service and bring all of our employees back to work as soon as possible.”
While the other affected islands have not suffered outages as on Oahu, a flash flood watch for Maui County through Saturday afternoon, and isolated thunderstorms across the islands, created real safety concerns.
According to a Maui County press release, “Police, fire and other county crews will be on stand-by in the unlikely event of a power outage. MECO officials have assured the mayor that there should not be any disruptions in service.”
In late January tentative contract agreements were made. However, a union vote on Feb. 18 declined the new contract. The storm provides unfortunate timing, however this action had been planned, according to Stanford Ito, IBEW strike captain, in the Star Advertiser.
HECO management and non-unionized employees have been asked to cover for their striking coworkers as negotiations continue.
“… [Maui] County will take all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our citizens,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa. “We hope that both sides can resolve their differences quickly.”
To report an outage or access customer assistance Molokai residents can call Maui Electric Co. at 1-877-871-8461. Business hours are Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.