Utility union benefits from California wildfire legislation
SACRAMENTO . (AP) — Utility workers would get protections for their jobs, salaries, benefits and pensions as part of a measure allowing California power companies to raise electric bills to cover the cost of lawsuits from last year’s deadly wildfires.
The job protections benefit politically connected unions that joined with utility management in lobbying aggressively for the ability to pass along the cost of 2017 wildfire lawsuits to customers, even if the utility behaved negligently.
The measure, which also includes efforts to improve forest health and prevent wildfires, is scheduled for votes in the Senate and Assembly tonight following months of contentious negotiations.
Large power users and ratepayer advocates have blasted the measure, calling it a bailout of Pacific Gas & Electric company, which has been blamed for some of the 2017 wildfires that tore through Northern California.
“Everybody’s getting protected, but customers,” said Michael Boccadoro, executive director of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association. “Utility shareholders are protected. Trial attorneys are protected. Insurers are protected. Victims are protected. Labor’s protected. Unfortunately, they forgot to protect customers.”
Under the legislation, if an investor-owned utility changes ownership or files for bankruptcy, it would be prohibited from shedding workers or cutting pay for six months. For two years after that, it could only lay off workers after conducting a study showing the Public Utilities Commission that there would be “no reduction” in the ability to respond to emergencies or respond to mutual aid requests from other utilities.