Richland line crews say city is underpaying workers

RICHLAND, Wash. – They’re the men and women who brave all conditions, even risk their lives to make sure our power stays on: the line crew, but workers in Richland said, they’re not being paid accordingly.

You may have seen signs around Richland with the quote, ‘I Stand with the Richland Line Crew.’

“We’re loosing linemen to local utilities right next to us,” Allen Scott said that’s one of the reasons for the latest initiative.

Scott, a Meter Power Protection Technician has been in the industry for 39 years, and has spent 13 years working for the City of Richland, and is a part of the IBEW Local 77 Union.

He said eight months ago, they started asking the city for comparable pay to other local line workers.

“We’re seven percent below everybody in this area directly around us and we’re the second lowest paid utility in the state of Washington. They get called out on nights, weekends, holidays, miss a kids game, and we’re just wanting to become comparable with them,” Scott explained.

Then, another issue arose.

Scott said many workers in the union had to use their personal sick time off if they caught COVID-19, instead of getting assistance from Richland.

He said they were considered essential workers, until the city received $7,361,285.00 from the American Rescue Plan.

The IBEW received a letter from the contract mediator stating they were being reclassified.

“That relief plan is to also assist the people who’ve worked through COVID that are essential. Well, by labeling us non-essential then part of that, that’s stressed to be used for that, doesn’t or won’t be used for that purpose,” Scott and his colleagues believe the city reclassified them to use the money in other places.

KAPP KVEW reached out to the City of Richland who had this response:

“The City believes it has offered the Union a fair and appropriate settlement proposal given the state of the economy, impact on City finances due to COVID-19 related shutdown/slowdowns and the detrimental impact of COVID-19 related shutdowns/slowdowns on the citizens of the City of Richland. 

There was no “reclassification” of essential workers as stated by their representatives.  

In May, the City was awarded $7,361,285 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  The ARPA funds can be used for:

·         Supporting the public health response

·         Addressing the negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency

·         Serving the hardest-hit communities and families

·         Replacing lost public sector revenue

·         Providing premium pay for essential workers

Each category has guidance on how the funds can be utilized. Use of ARPA funds are identified at: https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-state-local-and-tribal-governments/state-and-local-fiscal-recovery-funds

It has not yet been determined how the ARPA funds will be allocated.

The leadership of the City of Richland appreciate all of our staff, take their safety and wellbeing very seriously, and are committed to bargaining fairly and in good faith.”

Scott and his colleagues said if they don’t get better wages, they’ll be forced to look at other nearby cities for work. In turn, Richland could have to rely on contracted crews to complete work.

“Could be three hours before somebody gets here, it’s gonna extend rates because their wages are higher, they take that money they don’t live here, out of town,” Scott listed.

He explained they’ve had open positions for months, but because the pay is better in other parts of the Tri-Cities, those municipalities are getting the workers.

IBEW 77 workers said they’re not asking for anything irrational, they just want to make similar pay to the men and women with the same jobs in nearby cities.

Still, Scott said they’ll continue to serve the people of Richland, with hopes that change comes soon.

“Well morale’s pretty low, tensions are pretty high, we’re doing our job we’ll maintain doing our job, we’ll maintain outages, we’ll turn the power on but it is very frustrating,” he said.

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