Citing Safety Concerns, Union Wants Peoples Gas to Add Staff

By Staff Report

Oct. 23, 2008

A union representing Peoples Gas service workers is calling on the utility to hire 1,000 workers to address shortcomings in the handling of gas leaks outlined in a recent report on safety procedures at Peoples.

In a letter Tuesday, October 21, to the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Chicago Gasworkers Local 18007 of the Utility Workers Union of America urged the utility regulator to require Peoples to beef up its staff. The letter cited an independent safety study by Liberty Consulting Group commissioned at the request of the ICC. The report was made public October 8 at an ICC meeting.

Liberty’s report criticized the way Peoples Gas executed its pipeline safety program and determined that sometimes leaks went unrepaired for too long. The audit called Peoples Gas’ leak backlog “too high” and said that problems were allegedly downgraded before repairs were made, according to Local 18007.

“The matters in the Liberty Report are not new,” John Groenwald, Local 18007’s business manager, wrote in his letter. “Respectfully, we have been sounding the alarm on these issues for several years.”

A representative for Peoples Gas was not available for comment.

Local 18007 called for the permanent hiring of more than 1,000 field workers and service support to “adequately cover emergency, regulator and customer service.”

“Our members are responsible for safe and reliable gas service to every single building in this city,” Jim Gennett, Local 18007’s president, said in a release. “The Liberty report proves we can’t get the job done with a minimal workforce.”

In addition to the mass hiring, the union wants Peoples Gas to implement a recruitment and apprenticeship program to “continually replenish” all skilled emergency response staff and safety-sensitive positions. The union claims that its worker ranks have shrunk in recent years following staff cuts and retirements. The union claims that more than 50 percent of skilled gas workers will retire in the next decade.

Filed by Lorene Yue of Crain’s Chicago Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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