GMP: Temp workers not covered by merger agreement
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | August 25,2013
When Central Vermont Public Service Corp. merged with Green Mountain Power Corp. last summer, officials at GMP promised as a condition of approval that it would not lay off CVPS workers.
A GMP spokeswoman said the company continues to stand by that promise. But a former CVPS temporary worker alleges the company has broken its word — laying off several dozen temporary employees.
In an Aug. 15 opinion piece that appeared in the Rutland Herald, Chris Adams said GMP started eliminating temporary positions last September when more than two dozen workers were terminated.
He said his job was eliminated with others around Christmas of last year, with no severance pay and no help in securing new employment.
“How can you have a nearly 200-page merger agreement document that clearly states dozens of times the no layoff clause, yet you somehow leave out a major bullet point about temporary and part-time employees being excluded from this clause? That is just mind-boggling to me,” Adams said in an email when contacted for this story.
GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the company has kept its word and has not laid off any permanent legacy CVPS employees since the merger of the two utilities was completed last year.
“He’s flat-out wrong,” Schnure said. “We have been doing without exception all of the promises we made.”
The Public Service Board approval of the merger included a promise from GMP that it would not resort to layoffs of CVPS workers. The only exception was CVPS officers.
“Labor savings from the merger will not be achieved through layoffs (other than executive officers) or mandatory relocations, but instead through natural retirements and turnover,” the PSB wrote on page 45 of its 172-page order.
The order doesn’t specifically distinguish between permanent and temporary employees. At the time of the order, GMP had 206 employees and CVPS 532 employees for a total of 738.
As of last week, the merged company had 658 workers.
GMP also promised that going forward the workforce of the combined company would be proportional between the legacy GMP and CVPS workforce.
Schnure said the promise made by GMP, and included in the PSB approval, referred to permanent full-time employees, not temporary workers.
“Their positions could end the next day depending on what they were doing,” she said. “So the focus was on how many permanent positions would there be.”
Schnure said at the time of the merger the combined company had 45 temporary workers. She said some of those were meter readers who were told when they were hired their positions would eventually come to an end. Today, she said, GMP has nine temporary workers.
The Department of Public Service, which serves as the public advocate in utility cases, reviewed the merger before it was approved by the PSB.
After checking with the department’s public advocate, Commissioner Christopher Recchia confirmed that the no-layoff provision only applied to permanent CVPS employees.
“It did not apply to temps, did not apply to contractors,” Recchia said. “They have not laid off any permanent employees.”
Schnure said temporary workers were let go when the need for their employment ended. She took issue with the word “layoff,” saying it only applied to a permanent worker adn not someone who is working on a temporary basis.
Officials weigh in
Rutland was the former headquarters of CVPS and any potential loss of jobs was a concern of Mayor Christopher Louras.
But Louras also said the agreement not to shed workers did not include those hired on a temporary basis.
“It was my understanding that temporary employees by design were always considered temporary employees,” the mayor said.
He said he didn’t want GMP to retain temporary workers with no benefits at the expense of the company’s permanent workforce.
“There would have been the risk that had temporaries and part-timers been included, they would have been retained,” Louras said, “and full-timers with full benefits would have been cut loose and that would not have been in the best interest of the community.”
With all the commitments GMP made to the city, Louras said the company “has not only lived up to the letter of the memorandum of understanding (with the city) but the spirit.”
But the position taken by Recchia and Louras came as a surprise to Adams.
“Leaving out such a major component can be characterized any way you’d like, but ultimately it’s misleading and dishonest conduct on behalf of all the parties directly involved in the merger agreement, primarily GMP and the DPS,” Adams said in his email. “This major component — the fact that there WOULD be layoffs — would certainly have impacted public support for the deal and ultimately the DPS’ and PSB’s ability, in good faith, to support this merger.”
Adams also said that if the merger hadn’t taken place the temporary workers would still have their jobs.
Like Louras, Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said he didn’t believe GMP has violated its agreement. But Mullin, a critic of the merger, also said GMP with the help of the Shumlin administration “was very crafty” in how it worded its promise.
“… it is consistent with what I have said from the beginning that this was a very bad deal for Vermont and especially for Rutland,” Mullin said in an email. “They were always careful to exclude temporary employees from their promises and I believe they have kept their word.”
Mullin concluded, “There are many good people at GMP and now our only option is to continue to press them on new job creation.”
GMP has also created what it calls an Enterprise Resource Team for CVPS and GMP workers whose jobs overlapped. Adams, who was a temporary CVPS employee for more than three years, wrote in his op-ed that almost all workers assigned to the Enterprise Resource Team are former CVPS employees who had been stripped of their previous positions and left in limbo. He said the end result could ultimately force them to seek other employment.
Schnure said the team was created to assign work to employees who held the same job in both companies.
“When you merge two companies you quite often have positions where you have two people doing the same thing,” she said.
Schnure said where there were redundant positions those employees were assigned various projects or jobs, such as working on the company’s new heat pump program or the Rutland solar city project.
“We have people there who are really excited about what they’re doing.,” she said. “We have people there who are not excited about what they’re doing.”
More than 300 of the 658 GMP workers are members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
“To my knowledge, all my members are still working,” said Jeffrey Wimette, business manager for Local 300 IBEW.
He said the union and GMP have collaborated in making the merger transition as smooth as possible.
While some union members are temporary workers, Wimette said, none were affected by the layoffs.
The union represents not only line workers but mechanics, electricians, call center workers and some office personnel.
He also said no union members have been reassigned to the Enterprise Resource Team.
For his part, Adams applauded GMP’s community efforts but said retaining good jobs should be the highest priority.
“All their recent projects are great, but rather than promises to build an energy path, I’m sure GMP employees would like to see promises to maintain their salaries and job titles and not cut or force out any more employees,” he said.