Northeast Times

PGW employees protest proposed sale

Uni­on­ized Phil­adelphia Gas Works em­ploy­ees have been against the pro­posed sale of the util­ity since it was an­nounced earli­er this year.

On June 19, they made their reas­ons known clearly — and loudly — dur­ing a 90-minute rally out­side City Hall. Speak­ers called May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s plan to sell the city-owned util­ity to a New Eng­land com­pany dan­ger­ous, a be­tray­al of em­ploy­ees, fisc­ally un­sound and just plain dumb.

Gas Work­ers Loc­al 686 pres­id­ent Keith Holmes de­scribed the pro­posed sale as “the easy way out” of the city’s fin­an­cial prob­lems.

Why would the city sell off the best as­set it has, Holmes asked. Be­sides that, he said, cus­tom­ers’ bills will rise and cus­tom­er safety will be com­prom­ised be­cause he ex­pects many PGW work­ers to be re­placed by work­ers who are not as well-trained or pro­fes­sion­al.

“Why would you jeop­ard­ize the safety of the cit­izens of Phil­adelphia just to make a few dol­lars?” he asked. “That’s crazy.”

A spokes­man for the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s team that’s hand­ling the sale said the rally crossed the line by try­ing to scare people. PGW will still need the same skilled em­ploy­ees, said Kirk Dorn. “It would be fool­ish not to use a trained work­force,” he said.

Holmes said the work­ers in front of him at the rally won’t be sure of their pen­sions.

“I chal­lenge them to show any­thing in writ­ing that our pen­sions are guar­an­teed,” he said. 

Among the many uni­on and civic or­gan­iz­a­tion speak­ers at the rally was former May­or John Street, who told uni­on work­ers to “Just Say No” to May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s pro­posed $1.86 bil­lion sale of PGW to Con­necti­c­ut-based UIL Hold­ings Inc.

Street, who Holmes said over­saw a turn­around at PGW dur­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion, said there is a dif­fer­ence between a util­ity owned by the pub­lic and one owned by a com­pany “whose main goal is to make money.”

And, he said, “it’s not an in­sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ence.”

He said all the prom­ises UIL is mak­ing to main­tain pro­grams for the poor and eld­erly, to guar­an­tee work­ers’ pen­sions, not raise rates and op­er­ate safely are “cam­paign­ing.”

What will UIL’s man­agers say when they don’t do those things, Street asked and then answered, “We were cam­paign­ing then.”

A smart law­yer and a good ac­count­ant can make any deal look good, Street said. Sim­il­arly, he ad­ded, a smart law­yer and good ac­count­ant can get out of any deal.

Dorn said PGW is now in good fin­an­cial shape — and is valu­able enough that a com­pany wants to buy it. The city wants to sell it at peak value

“On every level, this sale makes sense,” he said.

City Coun­cil­wo­man Mari­an Tasco, who also is the gas com­mis­sion chair­wo­man, told the work­ers the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion has giv­en City Coun­cil only eight weeks to look at the deal, a no­tion she scoffed at.

“We’re go­ing to take our time,” she said. She said coun­cil, which must ap­prove the sale, has not even lis­ted hear­ings yet on the deal. Tasco said coun­cil mem­bers want to look at all the in­form­a­tion.

City Coun­cil­man Den­nis O’Bri­en called the gas works a stra­tegic as­set and ad­ded coun­cil had to be di­li­gent in con­sid­er­ing selling it.

“What’s the rush?” le­gis­lat­ive can­did­ate Mike Driscoll asked the crowd to much ap­plause.

Later June 19, Tasco re­it­er­ated that coun­cil will not be pushed in­to schedul­ing hear­ings or oth­er­wise mak­ing a de­cision on the sale, which also must be ap­proved by the Pennsylvania Pub­lic Util­ity Com­mis­sion. Coun­cil mem­bers ad­journed for the sum­mer last Thursday, and will not meet again un­til Sept. 11.

Dorn said the ad­min­is­tra­tion wanted coun­cil to make a de­cision this ses­sion, but now mem­bers will get a chance to hear the views of the sale’s pro­ponents and op­pon­ents. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus