PSE takes hard look at staffing levels
October 2, 2008 · Updated 3:00 PM
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
"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."