Local 304 represents the 150 union employees at the Harrison Power station.
Local 102 includes more than 900 employees of West Penn Power, Potomac Edison and FirstEnergy Generation Corp., including line and substation workers, meter readers and technicians, and other physical and support employees.
Most work for West Penn, which serves 720,000 customers in Pennsylvania, and Potomac Edison, which serves 132,000 customers in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle and about 250,000 customers in Maryland.
Cookson acknowledged the physically demanding work that linemen and others perform in inclement conditions and their right to fair compensation. Besides wage increases, he said, FirstEnergy is offering Local 102 the chance to participate in an incentive program that could boost straight-time wages by as much as 6 percent.
But it's also proposing to reformulate health-care coverage, offering a subsidy to help cover the cost of insurance Local 102 has obtained on its own for decades. That subsidy is comparable to what other employees get, Cookson said, but would result in an increase of about $500 per employee per year.
Whelan said the union doesn't fully understand FirstEnergy's new proposal on health care, but it adamantly opposes a provision that would let the company "amend, modify or discontinue" benefits at will.
FirstEnergy also said it wants changes at its power plants to improve productivity, adjust scheduling and move employees around as needed, Cookson said.
In some job classifications, people can only be scheduled to work Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. In most other contracts, the company can adjust schedules as needed between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
"We have limits on how much or how many times people are required to respond to overtime, and we'd like to relax those limits so people would be required to respond more frequently," Cookson said. "And really, that's a matter of being more fair because we have some people that work a lot and some people that work very little."
But Whelan said the problem is not unresponsive employees; it's lack of bench strength. Local 102, for example, currently has a contract provision requiring a customer service truck to be staffed at all times for emergency calls.
FirstEnergy wants a trouble truck designated by shift, so it could stack up multiple calls to a single truck rather than summoning another. Whelan said that would force customers to wait even longer.