Union official asks Greenfield Town Council for help in keeping Western Massachusetts Electric Co. center open

Last modified: Friday, December 06, 2013

GREENFIELD — Western Massachusetts Electric Co. employees still hope to persuade the utility to keep its work center in Greenfield open, and this time one of them is asking Town Council to help.

William Freeman, assistant business agent for the Local 455 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, recently told councilors that the council should let WMECO know how it and their constituents feel about the move.

“WMECO is a public utility and you have the right to ask them to stay,” said Freeman. “Response times are going to increase and customers will feel the impact.”

Freeman said that though the utility claims that basing its Franklin County work force in Hadley to consolidate operations and save money would not affect service to its Franklin County residents, he disagrees.

“There’s going to be an increase of at least an hour, and that depends on what part of Franklin County we’re going to,” said Freeman. “All of our Greenfield employees live in Greenfield or Franklin County, so you have to add on the driving time from their homes to Hadley and then back to the county.”

Freeman, who has been a lineman with the company for 25 years, said many residents call during off hours, so many times WMECO linemen would not be leaving directly from Hadley.

He said he is disappointed that the company also plans to sell the building it currently owns on the corner of Shelburne and Colrain roads.

“They are instead going to pay thousands of dollars in rent each year in Hadley,” said Freeman. “This just doesn’t make any sense.”

He asked Town Council to try to do something about it. The council did not discuss the issue at its last meeting.

Freeman warned councilors that supervisors and troubleshooters, which WMECO said would be at the scene of most problems first to shut off power or perform any preliminary work, are limited in what they can do.

“This is a dangerous job and you have to have linemen who know the terrain and trouble spots,” he said. “We know them because we live here.”

Priscilla Ress, a utility spokeswoman, has said several times that the move to the Hadley center, which is planned for the third quarter of 2014, should not affect service in Franklin County.

Ress said trucks will be parked in Hadley, but some employees will still be on call.

“We know how to react and provide the proper coverage as needed,” she said. “We are experts at distributing our workforce.”

Ress said a Northeast Utilities facilities review was done and found that the Greenfield facility is “under-utilized.” She said that is why WMECO plans to consolidate the two centers.

Freeman said there are more than 20 people working out of the Shelburne Road building. He said that includes 10 linemen, three electricians, two stock clerks, two garage mechanics, two field technicians and several supervisors.

The Greenfield center serves Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Leyden, Montague, Northfield and Shelburne Falls, as well as several towns outside of Franklin County.

Ress said the company would monitor response times after the move to Hadley to make sure it is not having a negative impact on its Franklin County customers, but it is not yet clear what would happen if the company finds there are problems.

“We are going to be evaluating the consolidation before, during and after the move,” said Ress. “Public safety is always our first concern. We won’t allow it to suffer. It’s our priority.”

Ress said the company will work with its employees and Franklin County residents throughout the transition and move.


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