National Grid turns down emergency worker plan

The National Grid Power station in Northport is The National Grid Power station in Northport is pictured. (Dec. 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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National Grid has turned down a contract proposal to keep more than 1,000 workers available for storm emergencies after PSEG takes control of Long Island's electric grid next year.

PSEG officials called National Grid's decision "disappointing" but said the company has started work on an alternative plan that would include commitments from workers and managers at local contracting firms for storm response.

Karen Johnson, a PSEG spokeswoman, said National Grid declined the proposal "because making personnel from these divisions available to support electric storm restoration does not align with their business strategy."

National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young declined to comment other than to say the company remained "committed to fulfilling our contract and service obligations to LIPA," which end Dec. 31.

The Long Island Power Authority decided in December 2011 to put New Jersey-based PSEG in charge of the power grid starting in January under a $3.6 billion contract. But National Grid remains in charge of power plants and natural gas delivery, and will retain workers from those operations.

Don Daley, business manager for Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Hauppauge, which represents about 2,600 National Grid employees, denounced the decision. He said the 1,400 workers who won't be available under contract are vital to storm restoration.

"There's a big benefit to having them" work on Long Island during storms, he said. "They know the territory. They've been trained" to support restoration work.

Daley said their functions include surveying storm damage, providing two-man restoration crews, and delivering and installing poles and other materials.

Matthew Cordaro, a new LIPA trustee and former Long Island Lighting Co. executive, said the workers are an important part of restoration work.

A source familiar with the contract talks said that while National Grid would not agree to a contract with PSEG, it could on a case-by-case basis make some of its workers available under "mutual aid" agreements -- if it determined they were not needed elsewhere.

National Grid operates electric utilities throughout the Northeast, including upstate and in New England.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross referred questions to National Grid and PSEG, adding, "We expect them to provide the quality service we hired them to do, and they can best address how they plan to do so."

Of the 2,600 IBEW members who work for National Grid, around 1,200 electric-system workers are expected to become PSEG employees next year. The remaining 1,400 will remain National Grid workers -- around 600 in natural gas delivery operations, around 500 in power plant operations, and the remainder in gas, call center and other dual operations.

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