The Turlock Irrigation District (TID) Board Meeting was attended by many dissatisfied customers on Tuesday morning, many of whom had to endure the entire weekend without electricity or water in their homes.
The Power Outages
Beginning last Friday, September 28th, and ending Sunday, September 30th, multiple electrical outages in TID’s service area caused approximately 49 customers to go without power for multiple days, up to 45 hours in the longest outage.
“I want to make it clear that the amount of time it took to get customers’ power restored is not acceptable and is by no means a reflection of the reliability or service standards that TID customers expect and deserve,” stated TID General Manager Casey Hashimoto.
The three locations included a wire down location (via a tractor vs. pole) at Harding Road near Youngstown, one underground cable failure location at South Modesto/Ceres Havertown Place, and another cross arm failure (hit and run car vs. pole) at Washington Road near Bradbury.
Out of the 40 qualified electrical linemen, who are all part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Line Workers Chapter 1245, zero of them answered TID’s phone calls for help. Only one employee, a troubleshooter, responded to TIDs call, as he was required to answer by contractual agreement. While the linemen were not on a ‘formal strike’, the union and TID have been in negotiations since April 2011. The line workers have not had a contract since December.
As part of the District’s outage protocol, when the first outage was reported and assessed, a line crew was requested to restore service. This attempt to get a crew to the outage site was unsuccessful. TID staff attempted to contact all 40 qualified electrical workers multiple times by phone, however, this was also unsuccessful as none of the linemen answered. This led the District to several attempts on Friday to piece together enough qualified and properly trained management and available personnel to perform repairs, all of which fell short of the required number of qualified workers.
TID then attempted to call Merced and Modesto employees who, according to the District’s contingency plan set forth by mutual aid agreements, should have been willing to help the customers. Although TID holds mutual aid agreements with these companies, none of the attempts to contact their linemen were successful. TID also contacted agencies that they do not hold mutual aid agreements with, however, these attempts also held to no avail.
TID then turned to multiple private electrical contractors to perform the much-needed repairs. A private company three hours away from Turlock agreed to drive out and perform repairs. The contractor arrived on site around 6pm on Saturday and had begun to perform the repairs, when a TID employee, who is also a member of the Lineworker’s union, interfered with the job and caused the contracting crew to leave the site due to what the contractors saw as a potential hostile work environment.
Finally, late Saturday evening, TID reached out to a private electric utility who agreed to have a crew on site Sunday morning. At 8:49am on Sunday, the utility arrived at one of the outage repair sites and commenced worked at 9:45am, with the power restored in this first area by 11:07am.
Ultimately, the final customers affected by these weekend outages saw their power restored by 5:41pm.
While the tasking of after-hour and weekend service calls is done on a voluntary basis, in the event that the volunteer system does not gather the needed employees to complete the job, the District can require line workers to work, however this is only the case if the employees are successfully contacted. Since none of the linemen answered TIDs phone calls all weekend, TID staff could not require them to come in to work.
“TID has never experienced an entire weekend with multiple unsuccessful please to qualified electrical line workers to respond to multiple calls for assistance,” stated Hashimoto.
Customer’s Express Disappointment
While many of the affected customers who attended Tuesday morning’s meeting understood that the District had made multiple efforts in repairing the power outages, many expressed disappointment in not only TID as a whole, but also with the linemen specifically.
“It’s something I think the Board needs to find out what’s going on,” stated former TID line supervisor Steve Brazil. “Why would 40 employees stay home when they would’ve gotten paid double time to go out and work?”
“Someone is trying to make a statement here, and it affected all of us” stated Richard Rocha, one of the affected customers. “Nobody cared about us.”
President Michael Frantz apologized to the customers on behalf of the Board, but many customers still wanted to express their experience to the Board so that they would have a better understanding of what they went through.
“I’ve lived in the TID district since 1937,” stated an elderly gentleman during the public comment period. “I’m 88, and my wife is 87. Normally an outage of a couple hours we can understand, but this is ridiculous. Either the employees need to get it settled, or you get it settled with them, or they need to work somewhere else. Or you need to get a new crew.”
“We are the landowners and rate payers,” he continued. “I hope that I don’t live long enough to see this situation again.”
Frantz stated that TID would be honoring all legitimate claims for loss, as many customers lost grocery items due to the electricity being out. One woman stated that she and her fiancé, who live paycheck to paycheck, could not afford to buy new groceries to replace those lost during the outage.
“I lost respect for the linemen,” stated Turlock resident Jim Ferreira. “They should lose their jobs. We’re talking about people’s livelihood that they affected.”
TID to repay those affected by power outage
While the power outage was occurring, TID offered various options to the affected customers, such as hotel rooms and a cooling center, which was held at the TID Main Office on Canal Dr. from 11am to 7pm on Saturday.
Seven affected customers took TID up on their hotel offer, bringing the total hotel costs to $484.02 for TID.
After the meeting, TID Public Information Division Manager Michelle Reimers handed out claim forms to the upset customers that may request repayment for spoiled food, emergency generator expenses, and such.
General Manager Casey Hashimoto estimates the low side costs for the weekend including outside services was approximately $40,000, however, it will take time for TID to acquire all of the claim forms and make other related payments.
“Our power restoration contingency plan did nothing to restore customers’ power throughout the weekend,” stated Hashimoto. “These plans are currently being addressed, and they will continually be reassessed in the future to ensure TID customers never experience a period like this again.”
“We owe it to our customers to do better than what they experienced over the weekend, and we issue our sincerest apologies.”