A frustrated union representative crashed a Capitol press conference Thursday to grill Jeffrey Butler, president and CEO of Connecticut Light & Power, about the work restrictions being place on his members.
Rich Sank, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 457, said the 16 hours on and 8 hours off work policy his linesmen are expected to work has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with economics.
“I also want to know why our crews were not fully utilized Sunday,” Sank said interrupting the press conference.
“I will stand behind the fact that when you look at the type of work these employees are required to do that eight hour rest period is essential,” Butler replied.
He mentioned the fatality the company experienced during Hurricane Gloria in 1985.
John K. Unikas, assistant business manager for IBEW Local 420, said the only fatality during a storm event of the last 50 years was the one during Hurricane Gloria. He said most fatalities don’t happen during storms because the lines aren’t energized. He said fatalities are more likely to happen on a regular shift.
“Doing the physical work that they do, we make it mandatory to have an eight hour rest period,” Butler said.
But Sank countered that when Northeast Utilities, CL&P’s parent company, sent linesmen from his local to work on Cape Cod for NSTAR, it allowed them to work 18 hours on and 6 hours off.
“Every crew we sent somewhere since I’ve been here we put them on a 16 hours on, 8 hours off shift,” Butler said. “When we agree to mutual aid with other states our agreement is that our crews will work 16 hours on and 8 hours off. So I’m not aware of any crews going to Cape Cod and working an 18 hour shift since I’ve been here.”
Butler said the company has round the clock coverage and has a total of 1,280 line and tree crews working to restore power to the 210,000 customers without it.
In a phone interview Thursday, Unikas said if there were 1,000 crews working an additional two hours a day that ends up being an additional 4,000 a day they could work to help to restore the power.
“I don’t believe this is the type of work anybody can spend 24 hours a day, five, six, seven days in a row,” Butler said. “This is about safety.”
He said the crews were sent home Sunday night, so they could have crews available for the following day.
Butler said by Saturday they expect to have 1,500 crews to respond to the outages. United Illuminating CEO Jim Torgerson said his company works their crews 16 hours on and eight hours off, too.
“Do I want a lineman working 20 or 24 hours a day, more than once? The answer is no,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday evening at his briefing. “On the other hand I will acknowledge you could have done that any one of those days.”
But Malloy said beyond that he hasn’t inserted himself into this issue.
“There’s plenty of time to talk about this stuff after we get more of our folks reconnected,” Malloy said.
Malloy said the performance of the utilities is in keeping with what was forecast. Last week the state estimated some number of residents would be without power for at least a week, he added.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who has been crisscrossing the eastern portion of the state particularly hard hit with power outages, said progress is slowly being made by the CL&P.
Courtney hosted a conference call with local elected officials from 57 eastern Connecticut towns and the company Wednesday evening.
Since that time as least one problem has been addressed. Power was restored to the Thames River Apartments in New London where seniors and disabled live.
“Clearly there’s a sizable increase in deployment in CL&P crews, and they’re setting up operating stations around the district,“ Courtney said.
He said he felt good about the power being restored to the New London apartment building but there’s still small towns that are 100 percent out of power. He said there’s such frustration amongst the residents who have been without power now for close to five days and it’s causing people to do desperate things.
Progress has been made and crews have arrived, but as of yesterday, 10,000 trouble spots still existed across the state, Courtney’s office said in a press release. The number of trouble spots was attributed to CL&P.