PSE takes hard look at staffing levels

Depending on whom you talk to, Puget Sound Energy may or may

not be preparing to execute a major change in how the company

provides power and gas line maintenance services to its customers.

According to the utility, discussions with the company's unions

began Thursday on a variety of subjects, including talks on marketplace

and employee issues. One of the unions, however, says the company's

message was this: there will be layoffs affecting the majority of PSE's line


Officials of Local No. 77 of the International Brotherhood of

Electrical Workers (IBEW) made the charges Friday.

"A company official told the business managers of the

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UAPPF) that

most union employees would no longer work for PSE and would

be transitioned to another company by the end of the year," said David

Timothy, Local No. 77's Business Manager and Financial Secretary. "Many of

the 2000 union employees will work for contractors who will be responsible

for routine maintenance, emergency repairs, storm work, engineering

and much of the customer service currently provided.

IBEW Local 77 represents PSE's electric line workers. UAPPF

Locals 32, 82 and 265 represent the utility's natural gas workers.

"PSE can call it anything it would like, but we see it as a lay-off,"

Timothy added. "Not only will our members lose job security, the

consumer will be the real loser."

"The company is not discussing layoffs," responded PSE

spokesperson Dorothy Bracken Monday. "The

meeting was an initial discussion with the union to let them know of

changes affecting the marketplace. PSE is developing a plan to meet those

changes. As the work plan gets more fully developed, the employees and

union leadership will be more fully involved."

Bracken said she didn't know how long the discussions would

continue between the utility and its employees, but stressed changes to the

workforce might be necessary. This could include "the option of moving certain

employees to service providers that might be able to perform some portions of

the work of the utility at a lower cost," she stated.

In other words, PSE employees could find themselves transferred

or otherwise shifted to a separate company that would provide

contract maintenance and emergency response. Bracken added PSE employees

would continue to provide first response to a power outage or natural gas

incident, but someone else could do the actual repairs.

"That's the case currently and has been for several years," she

continued. "This is just standard business.

When the company is going to do some planning or take some initiative, we get

in touch with the unions to let them know. No plan has been released

or decided on.

"The objective is, the sooner the better. The company's objectives

are to keep costs low and service high for the customers."

The news generated a mix of questions and concerns from

representatives of the Valley's cities.

"Their change would probably slow do their response, meaning

it would slow down those services that PSE provides Duvall," said

Duvall Public Works Superintendent John Light. "Basically, any time we

have damage by trees or trees fall over power lines, we stay away from

them because those lines could be charged. We don't want to risk life or

safety. They [PSE] are trained for those sort of responses."

"I think it would cause quite a bit of problems in the Valley,"

said Snoqualmie Mayor R. "Fuzzy" Fletcher. "I'd like to know who

they're going to use for contractors.

"One of the things that concerns me is that this is coupled with the

fact that they closed their office and moved everything to Issaquah. That leaves

us even further out of the loop. We could be in big trouble as far as getting

our repairs done in an emergency situation."

"Obviously, we're in the same kind of boat," commented North Bend

City Administrator Phil Messina. "Our concern would be how fast they

could respond to emergencies. Emergency outages do occur out here."

According to IBEW Local 77 spokesman Mike Stan, the answer

is obvious.

"The way they [PSE] are talking, there are only going to be 80

linemen left," he stated. "When the

wind's blowing and the rain's falling, you tell me what's going to happen."

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