National Grid plans to shift dozens of Long Island customer service jobs for its local gas operations to Brooklyn starting next year and use a temp agency to fill some positions, as a new utility takes over a Melville office that had previously served both electric and gas customers.
The move is part of a major transition by the Long Island Power Authority to shift control of the local electric grid to PSEG of Newark, N.J., on Jan 1. National Grid, which serves some 560,000 gas customers on Long Island and the Rockaways, lost the contract to operate the electric grid for LIPA, and must begin shifting some employees and operations from facilities it has long used to serve both gas and electric customers.
The move to the Brooklyn call center, to take place over the next six months to a year, will include use of a temp-staffing company to fill some posts in a move the company estimated could save customers more than $5 million compared with the cost it would have paid to open a new Long Island call center, National Grid said in a recent filing with the state Public Service Commission. The call center will be located at National Grid's Metrotech headquarters in Brooklyn.
At present, there are around 190 people answering phone calls for both electric and gas customers at the center. Agents spend around 65 percent of their time on LIPA calls. That electric-customer work will be taken over by PSEG in January.
National Grid will use a temp-employment agency to help staff its call-center operations to develop a "pool of candidates who will be trained and if they qualify they will be offered full-time employment in Brooklyn as a call agents," spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said.
Ladd said the company is working to "ensure that all [current] employees have a job at the end of the transition."
Telephone agents currently working in Melville will be offered jobs in Brooklyn, the company said, though it didn't specify how many, and Ladd did not provide a number.
Don Daley, business manager for local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents unionized call center employees, said the union has filed paperwork to object to the plan, which he said disrupts the employees' lives and could leave customers on the line with people who don't know the region.
Daley said he has been told some 80 National Grid call center employees will work temporarily in the Melville office to handle gas-related calls until National Grid completes the transition to Brooklyn. He said he's not certain how many will be offered jobs in Brooklyn, and estimated few would be up for the commute.
"We think that gas calls should be handled in the area in which you service," Daley said. "It's all about jobs here on Long Island." Calling different call centers can be problematic, especially if you outsource it to a third party. The agents don't know the geographic area. We know how frustrating it can be when a call is put on hold."
The move also affects agents at walk-in service offices around Long Island. National Grid and LIPA have jointly operated 11 customer walk-in centers across Long Island -- four in Nassau and seven in Suffolk. Under an arrangement with PSEG, National Grid will continue to use them for the next two years. National Grid will also have customer service tellers at three of the offices -- Bellmore, Brentwood and Hewlett -- and 32 payment agents.
Other unionized jobs, including clerical collections employees and some meter readers, also could be shifted to other National Grid offices or to automated services, Daley said. In all, Daley said he expects some 200 unionized gas workers to be impacted by the shift.
National Grid said it is planning an "outreach and education" campaign to customers to tell them of the transition and its plans to handle calls and other changes.
As part of the transition, National Grid said it will implement a new customer system that will provide customers with "enhanced functionality, including more self-service functions and improved bill presentation," according to its PSC filing.