Dominion Resources Inc. wants to reduce its work force by about 6 percent through buyouts.
The energy company expects that about 1,000 of the 4,800 employees eligible for its voluntary separation package will take advantage of the program, Dominion spokesman Jim Norvelle said.
The deadline for employees to apply is Friday, with as many employees as possible released from duties by April 1, he said.
"In no case will the company eliminate positions if it would compromise safety, reliability or our ability to comply with all laws and regulations," Norvelle said.
Richmond-based Dominion, the parent company of Dominion Virginia Power, has been quietly pushing the plan companywide in an effort to save money during the recession, though it would not say how much. The energy company has 17,000 employees, with about 10,000 working in Virginia.
"We expect the voluntary separation program to be successful," Norvelle said. "If . . . significantly fewer people participate than is expected, we would consider other options at that time."
The firm will lay off up to 75 people at its Millstone nuclear-power plant in Connecticut after the buyout proposal there brought in fewer participants than the utility planned for, Dominion said.
"It looks like the company's trying to cut costs where they can," said energy analyst Steve Marascia, director of research with Capitol Securities Management Inc.
"From a profitability standpoint, it would be positive if they can reduce headcount while retaining efficiency," Marascia said. "It would be a plus-plus for the company."
To be eligible for the buyout, workers have to be at least 55 years old and have been with Dominion at least three years by May 31, or reach those requirements during their severance pay period.
According to the company, employees will receive a month's pay, up to 18 months, for each year of service, as well as six months of medical and life-insurance coverage.
They also will receive a two months' "advance notice" transition period during which they will be relieved of work duties but continue as employees with full pay and benefits. Employees can take the severance package in monthly payments or a lump sum.
Dominion, which serves 2.3 million electric customers in Virginia, said it will try to accommodate as many requests as possible to participate in the buyout, but "the final decision depends on meeting the operational and business needs of the company."
Eleven unions represent about 6,300 Dominion employees. The largest, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' Local 50, speaks for about 3,300 employees and is participating in the voluntary separation program.
Four unions, including the United Gas Workers Union Local 69, are not. While not objecting to the voluntary-separation plan itself, "the company wasn't willing to do it by seniority," said Charlie D. Rittenhouse, Local 69's president in Clarksburg, W.Va. "They wanted to select and pick."
The buyout program is separate from the company's retirement program, Dominion said, and will not affect the benefits of those who also elect to retire.
Some employees postponed their planned retirements when the economy turned down, Norvelle said, and others are looking for new opportunities: "Voluntary severance payments may make it possible for those employees to go ahead with their plans."
Dominion's buyout plan is not tied to the company's base-rate case pending before the State Corporation Commission, Norvelle said.
The firm remains financially strong, Norvelle said, but "as most other companies, Dominion faces challenges over the next several years as the national economy recovers and commodity prices rebound
"We are taking proactive steps to address these issues," he said, "so that our customers, our employees and our stockholders are served in the best manner."
Contact Peter Bacqué at (804) 649-6813 or email@example.com .