*Originally published in the Appalachian News-Express*
Photo by Buddy Forbes
By Buddy Forbes
A potential rise in rates is not the only issue for which American Electric Power is currently in the hot seat. Tuesday morning, workers from Asplundh Tree Experts joined together in Coal Run to protest the company’s treatment of its contracted workers.
Asplundh workers gathered outside of the American Electric Power (AEP) Service Center at Coal Run Village, protesting what the workers claim are “discriminatory actions and unsafe working conditions.”
Asplundh is a contractor hired by AEP to trim trees in the area, keeping the power lines free from entanglement and safe from falling vegetation.
“These people pay AEP’s electric rates; why can’t AEP make sure this contractor pays these people in Kentucky and treats them the same as the workers in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio?” asked IBEW Local 369 representative Larry Wendler.
“People who do the same job, on the same utility, in those three states make upwards of $3 more on the hour than these workers in Eastern Kentucky. They have family healthcare offered to these workers that costs them roughly $125 a week. We’re just asking (AEP) to treat these Kentucky people the same as they treat the other people across the United States,” he added.
According to one of the Asplundh employees, the men gave out more than 100 flyers before 8 a.m. by standing on the side of U.S. 23 outside of the Pikeville American Electric Power building. The crew was asked to move onto the sidewalk next to Big Lots for safety reasons, where they continued to hand out fliers just outside of the AEP grounds.
The fliers cited Asphlund as “one of the wealthiest and largest nationally and family-owned contractors in the U.S.” The flyers said AEP is not offering sick days, not allowing similar wages to employees across state borders, not offering affordable benefits, not compensating for work travel and not providing proper training to employees.
“We’re here to fight for fair wages for Asplundh Tree Experts. They think that because we live in Eastern Kentucky they can pay us the lowest,” said Zack Phillips, a tree trimmer for Asplundh. “We’re the lowest-paid region around all because we live in Eastern Kentucky. We don’t get any sick days, though we work in all weather. There’s no retirement and there’s no future. The future you have at Asplundh — you work until you can get Social Security. That’s just no future for us.”
Phillips also said safety hazards related to the job were not being addressed by AEP. According to the statement from IBEW Local 369, there have been at least two recent workplace fatalities related to electrocution.
“Just in our region alone, we’ve had four deaths in the last two years. Those young men, who died for $13 an hour, had families. And (AEP) has provided no experience training to try to solve that. They have added different rules, but no training whatsoever,” said Phillips. “Hopefully this will open their eyes to pay us a little more money, give us better benefits, provide training and provide a future for the guys who are going to be working here for the rest of their life.”