Union Busting Plays a Role in Eastern Power Outages
July 9, 2012 9:20 am
As we reported last week, Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) locked out 8,500 unionized New York utility workers last week (as of this publication, the workers are still locked out) in the middle of a sustained and record-breaking heat wave that has broiled the Eastern Seaboard for the past week.
Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., the extreme weather led to storms, causing power outages that have been going on for days, putting vulnerable segments of the population at risk. Mike Elk, writing for In These Times, has a viable explanation for why utility company Pepco has done such a terrible job of restoring power to all of its customers (today will be the ninth day without power for some D.C.-area residents): union busting.
“…International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1900 members claim the failure to restore power outages is due to chronic understaffing and Pepco’s shift from hiring union utility workers to non-union temporary contractors,” Elk reports. “[IBEW Local 1900 Business Agent Jim] Griffin says that starting 15 years ago, Pepco stopped hiring workers to replace retiring electrical workers and offered incentive-laden buyout deals to get electricians to retire. In order to address understaffing problems, Pepco has at times hired non-union temporary contractors, instead of hiring new workers. Griffin estimates that Pepco currently employs 1,150 union workers and approximately 400 non-union contractors. The understaffing has led to problems that the IBEW warned about years ago.”
Pepco has netted phenomenal profits over the past four years, has received “millions in tax subsidies from the government” and has not paid a dime of federal income tax for over a decade. Still, the company can’t seem to extend its wealth toward hiring enough electricians to maintain the grid: “Griffin claims the insufficient number of linemen causes Pepco’s system to go out more often not just during storms, but on hot summer days when electrical grids are maxed out from air conditioners and fans. When big storms do hit and knock down the system, PEPCO hires outside contractors from far-away states to help in repairs.”
Elk adds that unionized Pepco workers are working on their second contract extension, and are unable to come to agreement with the company, as it has “demanded the unilateral power to make changes to the health and benefit packages of union workers mid-contract. (The union suspended its contract negotiations so that members of the bargaining committee could go into the field to help restore power to D.C. residents).”
Perhaps nature’s brutality combined with the bad publicity brought on by the utility company’s refusal to adequately handle the situation will finally force Pepco’s hand.
Image from here