Is Union Busting to Blame for Power Outages in D.C.?
Yesterday, 15,091 Washington, D.C.-area residents were without power for the sixth day in a row, according to utility company Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal. As D.C. residents face record heat waves, many are upset and attribute the lack of power to incompetence on Pepco's end. However, 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.
“We have half the linemen we had 15 years ago,” says IBEW Local 1900 Business Agent Jim Griffin, whose union represents 1,150 Pepco workers. “We have been complaining for a very long time. They have relied for a long time on contractors. They are transients, they don’t know our system, and we typically have to go behind them to fix their mistakes. It’s very frustrating. We take ownership in our work, we make careers out of this.”
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.