The assertion made by Scott Thomson and Brent Reed that Manitoba Hydro customer service restoration times will improve as a result of the closure of 24 rural hydro offices (as well as the potential closure of another 12 rural offices presently under review) is misleading.
Keeping the power on in Manitoba is what the members of the IBEW do with great pride 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These employees at Manitoba Hydro tell us that the frequency and duration of customer no power calls have increased and continues to increase. As evidence of this, were told customer service operations paid out a record amount of emergency overtime (for system restoration calls) in the last fiscal year.
There is no doubt that Hydro employees provide a high level of system reliability, but the condition of the rural distribution system is decades old and Hydro itself recognizes that the system needs to be replaced.
One simply cannot have a distribution system that includes more than 100,000 rotten poles and expect to maintain the same high levels of service customers have come to rely on. In fact, the system is so old that if employees worked the additional overtime necessary to change over an additional 1,000 poles a year, it would take more than 100 years to replace the poles that are rotten today!
Knowing this, I would have to say that Bob Graham, former manager of customer service operations, was undoubtedly accurate in his letter to your paper on Nov. 1, when stating that service restoration times have increased.
In cases where it can be said that restoration times have improved, this is likely the result of the introduction of better customer service tracking programs and of additional training that employees have received on these programs.
Since 2007, Manitoba Hydro has spent millions of dollars on a mobile workforce management system. One of the major goals of MWM was to improve responsiveness and to create a higher level of customer service. Taxi cab companies use similar programs for dispatching their drivers. And just as it would be ludicrous for a taxi company to require each cab to return to the dispatch office before receiving its next fare, so, too, is it inexcusable for Manitoba Hydro not use the MWM system in which it has so heavily invested, as efficiently as possible. To maximize customer service, it is imperative that the necessary workers be located across the electrical distribution system.
While closing 24 offices might realize savings, it is keeping the workers who perform the system restoration calls spread out across the province and in rural communities that will maintain high levels of service. Foolishly spending ratepayers’ money inefficiently results in increased rates — and increased rates should always be the last resort.
For rural Manitobans who have seen the same rate increases on their electrical bills as urban residents, service levels should be no less than those enjoyed by their city counterparts.
IBEW Local 2034
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 10, 2013