BWL Watch

By Andy Balaskovitz

Line crews and labor contracts; CRT requests more information and schedules a get-together with BWL execs

At a community forum last month, Lansing resident Griff Canfield openly questioned why the Board of Water and Light required three line workers to clear downed wires after the storm hit.

Canfield, now retired, said he worked for Consumers Energy and a utility in Salt Lake City for over 30 years. In “more restoration efforts than I can remember,” Canfield said the job could have been done with two people.

He suggested the storm-restoration efforts were “handcuffed and hogtied” because of provisions in a collective bargaining agreement between the BWL and International Brotherhood of Electric Workers, the union representing BWL workers.

However, BWL spokesman Steve Serkaian said the union agreement is irrelevant to the number of required line crews. He said the BWL Safety Manual, last updated on Oct. 17, “addresses who can work on downed lines. As few as one qualified line worker can clear a downed wire under certain conditions.”

“It’s totally related to the safety of the situation,” said IBEW business manager Ron Byrnes. He also said the three-person requirement applies to primary voltages, not secondary.

Dan Bishop, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, said restoring and clearing downed wires are “typically” done with two- or threeperson crews for that utility. Consumers line workers are represented by the Utility Workers Union of America.

But whether the BWL collective bargaining agreement and safety manual negatively affected the utility’s storm response time is getting a closer look by the Community Review Team, the independent review team headed by retired Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel.

“That subject, we believe, is definitely in the scope of the Community Review Team,” said spokesman T.J. Bucholz.

Bucholz said the team is actively reviewing the union contract and “how did BWL implement it,” he said.

“Absolutely not,” Byrnes said when asked whether the agreement would have slowed efforts. “That wasn’t the case.”

CRT requests more info
Speaking of the Community Review Team’s investigation, it announced Tuesday morning a second request for documents from the utility. It follows an earlier request received last month that McDaniel originally said looked “incomplete.”

It asks for details related to training BWL employees on response plans, appendices to its Emergency Operations Plan that wasn’t received in the first request, notes and emails from 12 senior BWL officials between Dec. 20 and Jan. 3 and a compilation of mutual aid agreements, among others.

Additionally, the CRT will hold a fivehour meeting from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday at Fire Station No. 1 in Lansing. The team is scheduled to interview members of BWL’s senior leadership team. The meeting is open to the public, but there will not be an opportunity for the public to ask questions directly of BWL officials.

“It’s important for us to be able to talk to BWL about their (document) submissions,” Bucholz said. “It will be kind of like a legislative hearing structure.”

Meanwhile, the State Journal reported over the weekend that the team may not meet its self-imposed March 31 deadline for a final report. McDaniel told the paper that fact-finding is taking longer than anticipated. Bucholz said Monday that the committee should still finish its report in early April.