"OUR strike is not illegal."

This was stressed Tuesday, February 1, by Stefannie Montenar, president of Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) Rational Union of Employees (Cure).

Montenar was reacting to the statement made by lawyer Dennis Cortez, the legal counsel of Ceneco.

In a virtual press conference on Monday, January 31, Cortez said the planned strike by Cure is illegal, as it violates the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) the group signed with the power utility firm.

Cortez said there is a "no strike clause" in the CBA and the group could only file a notice of strike if an unfair labor practice occurred, which he said, there was none.

But Montenar said the "no strike clause" cannot be applied since their strike is not "deadlock."

"Our grounds (for the strike) is union busting and unfair labor practice," she said.

Asked if they are willing to meet half-way with Ceneco, Montenar said they would only agree on a settlement with the firm in the presence of a representative from the Department of Labor (DOLE).

"We want DOLE to meddle (with the issue) because if not, then it will not be resolved at all," she said.

As of Tuesday, February 1, the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) has not yet communicated with Cure regarding the notice of strike filed by the union.

Ceneco acting manager Jose Taniongon earlier said that the possible scenario to happen is for the DOLE to assume jurisdiction of the issue so the strike will not push through.

If the strike is inevitable, Ceneco will contract workers to take on the jobs of the employees who will be joining, he said.

The "seven-day cooling period" is currently being observed by Cure members while awaiting the decision of DOLE.

While the "cooling period" is in effect, Montenar said they will not do anything illegal and will continue to work.

On Sunday, January 30, 291 of the 322 members of Cure voted in favor of holding the strike calling for Ceneco to implement the CBA that was approved in September 2021.

The implementation of the CBA will also pave the way for the increase of the salaries of Cure members, who are rank and file employees of Ceneco, by five percent.

They are also pushing for the implementation of their P500 monthly allowance and the release of their P15,000 signing bonuses.

Meanwhile, consumer group Power Watch Negros (PWN), in a statement, said that at the receiving end, in the event of a strike that would paralyze the operation of Ceneco, are its more than 310,000 member-consumer-owners.

They said the MCOs of Ceneco will be adversely affected by a terrible burden and inconvenience, let alone the disruption in the business, trade industry and overall economic development in the province.

PWN Secretary General Wennie Sancho called on Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, former governor Rafael Coscolluela and Frank Carbon of the Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI) to convene the Task Force Ceneco in order to address the looming power crisis amid the impending strike.

Sancho said it was strongly suggested that the group should meet and come up with a "Manifesto for Industrial Peace" strongly requesting the management and the labor union of Ceneco to submit their labor dispute to voluntary arbitration and/or requesting Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

This will lead to assumption of jurisdiction over the labor dispute at Ceneco as an industry indispensable to the national interest, he said, adding that such assumption shall have the effect of automatically enjoining the intended or impending strike.

"In line with our concern for and the highest respect to the rights and welfare of the consumers, their life and health since Ceneco is a distribution utility imbued with public interests, strikes, to every extent possible be avoided, and all serious efforts, not only by labor and management but government as well, be exhausted to substantially minimize if not prevent the adverse effect of a strike," the consumer group leader said.

The call of PWN for the convening of the Task Force Ceneco is for the greatest good of the greatest number of people already burdened by pandemic, its official said.

Ceneco is the largest electric cooperative in Negros Occidental supplying power to the province's capital city Bacolod, as well as its neighboring cities of Silay, Bago and Talisay, and towns of Don Salvador Benedicto and Murcia.