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Thursday, April 22, 2010

CL&P Acknowledges Union Issues in Storm Response

An official of Connecticut Light & Power Co. told chief elected officials of southwest Connecticut today that union pay issues were involved in the company’s response to the March 13-14 nor’easter.

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But Todd M. Blosser, director of Southern Division operations for the utility, disputed union contentions that linemen could not work more than 16 hours at a time on restoring power.

“They’re being less than truthful,” he said in reference to union leaders contending that a 16-hour maximum shift was a company policy. “It (16 hours) is a guideline of ours, not official policy,” he said.

The CL&P official said some crews could work 14 hours or 18 hours but that the company insisted no matter how many hours they worked, the linesmen were required to take a minimum of eight hours off afterward.

It was this requirement, he said, that impacted their ability to earn double time and caused negative comments to the public. He did not say—and was not asked—whether it prolonged restoration of power as the unions have contended.

Blosser spoke at the monthly meeting of the South Western Metropolitan Planning Organization in Norwalk that included Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff and other chief elected officials from southwest Connecticut.

The officials had asked for the meeting with utility officials to question them about the CL&P response to the storm that left thousands in the dark for five days or more.

Blosser said a new contract negotiated with the linesman’s union impacted their ability to get as much double time for extended work during storms than in the past.

“The membership voted on it and approved it, and now when we move forward on this contract, many are not happy with it,” he said.

“It is a challenge and personally very upsetting to me when I hear our line workers saying negative things about the company to the public. I don’t know who they think wins.”

Asked by Joseloff whether there will be complaints by linesmen to the public during future storms, Blosser said: “An honest opinion is I would say the next few storms throughout 2010 we probably will continue to hear that rhetoric from our bargaining units. They are upset about it.”

He said the reality was that CL&P was a business and had to exert financial controls as best it could.

Blosser and Christopher Swan, a CL&P executive who lives in Westport, said the company had been taken by surprise by the severity of the storm. “It overwhelmed us in the early hours,” Swan said.

Blosser said the company had already decided to change a number of its operating procedures as a result of feedback following the storm, including making a municipality’s priorities its priorities.

“Whatever your guys’ priorities are, that should be our priorities,” he said.

In past storms, CL&P had concentrated on restoring power to the largest number of customers first, leaving clearing roads and hooking up individual homes a lesser priority.

Blosser also told the meeting that a top goal was improving communications with municipal officials as well as the public during storms.

He said during the recent storm, communications with municipalities got better as CL&P placed company officials in each emergency operations center. But communicating with the public was still inadequate.

“We need to get information out to the call centers and through them to the public,” Blosser said.

He said it was often a challenge during the March storm to gather information from deployed crews, many of whom were from out of state and even the country.

“We had crews from Canada who spoke French and we had to get interpreters in to talk to them,” he said.

The state’s Department of Public Utility Control last week completed a series of public hearings in southwest Connecticut on the response by CL&P and United Illuminating Company to the storm.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell directed the DPUC and the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to conduct a joint investigation into complaints about the actions of the utilities during the storm.

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Posted 04/22/10 at 09:26 PM  Permalink



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