With 175,000 customers without power, to meet its self-imposed goal of 99 percent restoration by midnight Sunday Connecticut Light & Power would have to restore 5,500 customers per hour, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Saturday.
“That’s a much higher rate than they’ve been able to do so far,” Malloy said. “I’ve said for several days that I’m skeptical about the possibility of them reaching the goal, so I’m now becoming increasingly skeptical.”
With that said Malloy demanded that Connecticut Light & Power provide him with a restoration schedule broken down town-by-town, by hour. He said he wants to know by 10 a.m. Sunday if the company knows it’s not going to meet its goal because “the people of Connecticut deserve to know that.”
Malloy will hold a noon press conference Sunday to distribute that information to the media.
Asked what he thought the reason the state’s largest electric utility has been failing to meet its goal, Malloy said the response during the first 48 hours was relatively flat.
“I think they’ve been behind the eight ball for a period of time,” Malloy said. “As much as we want to support and be supportive of CL&P it’s clear that for the last several days they have failed to meet their own self-imposed goals on a day-by-day basis.”
In order to meet the goal, Malloy suggested that the company needs to work through the night and use all the crews at its disposal to get as many customers restored as possible.
But the company has a long standing policy, which it maintained during Tropical Storm Irene, that only allows linemen to work 16 hour shifts with two meal breaks, followed by an 8 hour rest period.
Jeffrey Butler, president and COO of CL&P, who under fire from the unions during Irene maintained that the 16 hour shifts followed by an 8 hour rest period was a safety issue, said Saturday that his company works “employees all the time more than 16 hours when it‘s not a multi-day event.”
“It’s not untypical of us as we get to the end of an event to ask for volunteers to see if they want to work beyond the 16 hours because we know they’ll still get the 8 hour ret after that,” Butler said.
Union officials called on CL&P to extend their work hours during Tropical Storm Irene and at least two of them were suspended for a day without pay for working through their meal break, taking an 8 hour rest, then returning to work.
The union provided CTNewsjunkie with copies of the letters to the two linemen from Carol Brouchu, operations manager for Northeast Utilities System in Simsbury.
“Upon completion of the company’s investigation, it has been determined that you did not follow the instructions of your supervisor given to you on August 28, 2011 to take your full rest time plus meal time not taken prior to returning to work. This is not a new practice, and it has been repeatedly emphasized with you,” the Brouchu wrote in the letters.
Asked about the letters Butler said “that’s an issue between us and the unions and I’ll discuss that with the union anytime they’d like to.“
Frank Cirillo, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 420, has said the reason for the 16/8 policy is because the company doesn’t want to spend money on overtime, or double time. He said it was a business decision based on the bottom line, not a safety issue.
Butler repeatedly said during Irene that the reason for the policy was the fatality the company had in the aftermath of Hurricane Gloria in 1985 when one of their linemen was electrocuted. A report later found fatigue as one of the contributing factors.
“If you look at the restoration rate of what we’ve accomplished in this storm, we’re at a faster pace of restoring customers than we did in Tropical Storm Irene,” Butler said Saturday.
For those who haven‘t toured the north central portion of the state, “The devastation is unbelievable. It does look like a war zone in many parts of the state,” he said.
As for Malloy’s message, Butler said he heard it loud and clear and believes the company with 2,142 line and tree crews, mostly from out-of-state, will continue to make progress.
“I realize it’s been a long week,” Butler said. “It’s been a long week for everyone here in Connecticut. This was a historic event.”
And as such Butler said the company will be waiving late fees for the month of November, which will likely come to little consolation to those still in the dark.
Meanwhile, 425 National Guardsmen were helping 10 municipalities clear roadways and were asking a handful of towns if they still needed help with clearing trees and branches.
The National Guard also distributed more than 32,000 meals and water to 85 towns.