Unionized SoCal Gas workers began working without a contract as of midnight Oct. 14. The contact lapse came after union workers staged a sizable demonstration during the evening rush hour Oct. 13 in front of the company\u2019s downtown Los Angeles headquarters. Labor leaders denounced what they called excessive compensation for Sempra Energy executives. \u201cIt\u2019s about corporate greed taking away our pride,\u201d Utility Workers Union of America Local 132 president Arturo Frias told hundreds of workers in front of the SoCal Gas skyscraper. Many wore bright orange Tee shirts emblazoned with \u201cShame on Sempra.\u201d Frias and other labor leaders criticized Sempra for providing $91 million in compensation to five executives over the past three years, with company chief executive officer Don Felsinger getting $42 million. The disagreement over bread and butter issues also is flaring into palpable anger in utility rate hike proceedings at the California Public Utilities Commission. SoCal Gas spokesperson Denise King said a recent compensation study showed unionized workers for the utility earn slightly more than their peers at other utilities, but that Sempra\u2019s executives earn less than those at comparable businesses. King said the lapse of the labor contract with SoCal Gas was unusual. In the last round of negotiations several years ago, King said the company and union struck a deal during the first extension of the labor agreement. The failure to reach an agreement this time comes against the backdrop of union members already authorizing their leaders to call a strike if talks do not prove productive. It also comes amid growing ire about \u201ccorporate greed\u201d evidenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The local branch of Occupy Wall Street--Occupy L.A.--joined in the demonstration in front of SoCal Gas headquarters last week and staged a march by thousands of people through the streets of the city on Oct. 15 to protest corporate economic power. Frias said the utility workers were the first organized labor union to formally endorse the Occupy Wall Street movement. Also joining the utility workers at last week\u2019s demonstration were other unions representing nurses, teachers, electrical workers, construction laborers, chemical workers, and other trades. Utility workers pledged to press their case regarding executive compensation before the California Public Utilities Commission, which currently is considering a $308 million, 7.4 percent rate hike for SoCal Gas in 2012. Hearings set for Oct. 24-27 on the SoCal Gas rate hike are expected to serve as a lightning rod for critics of the growing wealth and income gap between executives and workers and consumers. Late last month, several parties representing ratepayers in the utility rate case requested that executive compensation information be made part of the record and opened for discussion in the rate proceeding. Meanwhile, King said the utility and the union have agreed to continue talks and that the company remains hopeful it can reach an agreement. In a statement to its members, the local said that although there has been \u201csome recent movement by the company, we are still miles apart from a settlement with demands by the company on pensions, wages, contract term, healthcare, [and] sick time.\u201d King said that earlier this month the company offered to raise compensation for union employees by 12 percent over the next four-and-one-half years to an average annual salary of $78,000. In addition, she said, the utility is offering to continue to pay 85 percent of the cost of health benefits, although the total cost of insurance premiums has been rising annually by double digits for many years. On pensions, King said management is offering to maintain its current company-provided retirement plan for existing union employees, but wants to place new union hires under a plan now used for non-union workers. That arrangement limit\u2019s the company\u2019s pension liability, union representatives maintain.