Gas service work has changed, and a landmark new letter agreement negotiated by IBEW 1245 makes sure that workers will be properly compensated as PG&E continues to improve the safety and reliability of its gas service.
Letter Agreement R1-14-17, which is subject to mail-ballot ratification by the affected members, will expand and strengthen the Job Definition and Lines of Progression for PG&E’s Gas Service Department by establishing two new positions: Lead Gas Service Representative and Utility Gas Service Representative. IBEW 1245 Assistant Business Manager Ed Dwyer, who helped negotiate the agreement, said the change was long overdue.
“The work has changed, especially in the last 15 years. There’s a lot more work at the meter set now because the Smart Meter requires a lot of maintenance. Every 5 to 7 years you have to change the module because the batteries go out,” Dwyer said. At the same time, in the wake of the San Bruno explosion, the company has upped its response to gas leaks, with a current average response time of 20-21 minutes.
These factors translate into more work.
For years the company has tried to keep up with the increasing workload by utilizing temporary workers from the IBEW 1245 Hiring Hall. But that approach failed to provide PG&E with a long-term solution to its staffing needs, and also failed to compensate regular employees for the increasing demands that were being made of them.
Letter Agreement R1-14-17 addresses both parts of the problem by expanding the line of progression to include the new beginning level position of Utility GSR, as well as the advanced classification of Lead GSR.
The existing workforce will benefit from the opportunity to fill 67 new positions at a higher rate of pay: 50 Lead GSRs and 17 additional Service Mechanics. Lead GSRs will be paid $48.55/hour, for a base yearly wage of $100,984, a 7.2% increase over the existing GSR wage.
Both the company and the union expect to benefit from the creation of the Utility GSR position. For PG&E it means the creation of a more experienced pool of bidders to the GSR position, laying the foundation for a more stable workforce (and service reliability) into the future. For the union it means more work going to permanent employees with full benefits and opportunities to progress through an enhanced line of progression with higher top wages.
At the same time, the agreement takes care to limit the number of Utility GSRs, and to also limit their duties so that they do not encroach on the work of GSRs. Under this agreement, if the company wants someone to do GSR work, they must provide GSR pay. There will be no Title 206 (displacement and demotion) actions under this agreement.
The current practice of relying heavily on Title 300 Hiring Hall employees was becoming untenable for both the company and the union, said Business Representative Anthony Brown, a former GSR himself.
“It was hard to manage for both sides. It was difficult for the company to figure out its responsibilities for offering overtime when temporary employees were in the headquarters, and it was hard for the employees to be able to track that and understand when their rights were being encroached on. I think this is a really positive permanent solution to what had been an ongoing problem,” Brown said.
GSR Robert Mohler, who served on the committee, said it will help the company in an era when many supervisors now come from outside of PG&E and have less familiarity with the work than supervisors of old.
“The company really needs a right-hand man who can do the work and have the skill to help out the next gas serviceman, help do a little bit of the training, the tailboard,” said Mohler. That lead GSR will be in a good position to give feedback to the supervisor with less background in the work and make it possible for that supervisor “to get a better product out of his employees.”
Building a stronger Gas Service Department was part of the union’s thinking all along, according to GSR Craig Moeller, another member of the committee.
“We as a committee early on came to a conclusion that we see probably way more work on the table than the company realizes, and we’d be foolish to turn it away and hand it off to a contractor or another department,” Moeller said.
The work certainly seems to be there, including atmospheric corrosion work that needs to be performed on meters every five years. The new Job Definition-Line of Progression will give the company a deeper bench for meeting the workload, and correspondingly less temptation to farm the work out.
“For all the hundreds of existing GSRs who on a daily basis take leadership in their department and work as a de facto lead, we’ve put some framework to the department and now we’ll have people trained, experienced, and that is their job duty and they’ll be compensated in the right manner for what guys have been doing in the department from the beginning of time,” said Brown.
The initial staffing of Utility GSR positions will be through offers to trained Title 300 installers.
“I like the fact we’re finally going to pull people from Title 300, experienced employees, rather than pulling people from off the street and putting them ‘in the fire,’ ” said Mitch Bryans, another GSR who served on the committee. “I think it’s positive all the way around. This is the way it should have been done a long time ago.”
Also serving on the committee was GSR Michael Adayan. All four GSRs on the committee agreed that the end result should be better service for customers.
“The hope is that, long-term, all customers get a far better service and a more highly-technically trained GSR on the street to address what in some situations could be a life or death situation,” Brown said.
Ballots will be mailed to all 707 affected members on May 12. Completed ballots must be received at the union post office box by June 9 in order to be included in the count.