By SUSAN HAIGH,  Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ More than 150 Connecticut Light & Power’s
unionized linemen rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, saying
staffing levels at the electric utility are inadequate and are
putting workers at risk and impeding service reliability.

The union, which has been without a contract since June, said
the utility has about 400 linemen, fewer than it had last October
when a snow storm left tens of thousands of customers without power
for days. Tens of thousands were also left without power for long
periods when the remnants of Hurricane Irene struck the state last
“We need help and we need help now, not next year or the year
after, but today. We want help,” said Steve Casper, a 30-year
veteran lineman who works in the New Milford area and is a member
of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 420.

He said he works with a crew of 13 people– down seven people from
five years ago– that’s responsible for eight towns.

Tricia Taskey Modifica, a spokeswoman for the utility, said
staffing levels are on par with other utilities across the nation.
She said hundreds of experienced crews are brought in from out of
state when an emergency strikes.

“The truth of the matter is, it wasn’t understaffing that left
people without power for more than a week. It was that historic
storm that we’d never seen before that devastated our state and
devastated our system,” she said. “We had 2,200 utility crews on
the ground from outside companies who came in to help, so it really
wasn’t a staffing issue.

The linemen held a noontime rally on the state Capitol steps.

Some wore shirts that referred to CL&P as “Corporate Lying Pigs”
and held signs that called “safe staffing now,” “stop the
greed” and “reliable power.” Some top Democratic politicians,
including state House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey and Senate
President Donald Williams, turned out to express support for the

Williams said state legislators listened carefully to the
workers after the two storms hit Connecticut and used their
recommendations as part of a package of changes enacted by the
General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to improve preparedness
and response to major storms.

“We need to stand with you to make sure those reforms are not
just words on a page,” Williams told the crowd.

The lineman also received the support of federal officials,
including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Reps. Chris Murphy and
John Larson, who sent representatives to the rally. Blumenthal, the
former state attorney general, called for increased staffing, fair
compensation for the workers and affordable rates. He said the
company has “the opportunity and obligation to do the right thing
for both workers and consumers.”

Frank Cirillo, business manager for the IBEW, Local 420,
complained that lower staffing levels at CL&P have led to forced
overtime under the threat of discipline.

“That’s a total shame. It shouldn’t be that way,” he said.

Modifica said “antiquated union rules” prevent the company
from being able to schedule line workers when customers need them
most. But Cirillo said the company already has the flexibility it
needs to schedule the employees.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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