PG&E STEWARDS CONFERENCE: STAFFING, SAFETY, DISCIPLINE
Staffing, safety and escalating discipline were among the major topics highlighted at the PG&E stewards conference held Jan. 22 in Sacramento. (See separate story on upcoming Clerical bargaining.)
Staffing levels of PG&E are inadequate to meet the workload in both gas and electric, according to Business Manager Tom Dalzell.
In the Gas Department, PG&E carried forward more than 26,000 repairs that were discovered in leak surveys in 2009 that need to be performed in 2010, Dalzell said. The company estimates it will discover in 2010 as many as 30,000 additional repairs that need to be made.
At the same time, “Staffing in gas is the lowest it’s ever been in the history of the company,” Dalzell said, noting that staffing had fallen from 1572 people in the department in 2004, to 1324 people today.
“Gas T&D has saved the day for PG&E many times, they’ve really performed heroically,” said Dalzell, including two crews working in Sacramento on Christmas day. But the workload is simply too great for PG&E’s current staffing levels.
The situation is equally dire on the electric side of the utility. PG&E has about 2.3 million poles, which last 50 to 70 years. Even if they all last 70 years, Dalzell said, “they need to change 33,000 poles a year.” But the last time they changed even 10,000 was in 2004. In 2009 it was just a few short of 3,000.
“Going at that rate, it will take them 767 years to replace all the poles,” said Dalzell. “As long as the poles last 767 years they’re in good shape.”
Staffing on the electric side is on the same sorry trajectory as the gas side. In 2006, the company had 456 apprentices working. Today that figure has slipped to 282. “They have fewer linemen than they’ve ever had in the history of the company,” Dalzell noted.
No steward conference is complete without a session on grievance handling, and Assistant Business Manager Ken Ball spoke at length about the importance of maintaining credibility with supervisors.
“Your best shop stewards can deal with them when they come in there. You’re going to be honest with them, tell them what’s going on, tell them what the problem is and discuss the problem with them,” Ball said.
It is critically important than stewards meet the timeline for filing grievances. “Don’t let a supervisor talk you into putting off (filing a grievance) beyond the time limits,” Ball said. “If you don’t take anything else away with you today, take away the importance of timeliness.”
Ball questioned the company’s zeal in pursuing certain grievances, such as dings on the bumper of a truck. But he was adamant that safety is critically important, that the IBEW was organized over a hundred years ago over concerns about safety, and that stewards should be “proponents of that safety.”
Staff attorney Jenny Marston, who handles grievances that reach the arbitration level, said that the work of stewards is “critical at every phase of the grievance procedure,” including arbitrations.
“They are the most important thing I look at. The shop steward is the first point of contact for the grievant and the first person to really get a sense of what happened,” she said. Memories may fade over time—and it may take a very long time for a case to reach arbitration—and the steward’s initial investigation is critically important in showing what the issues are.