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Amid Sandy cleanup, utility workers angry over payroll problems

December 07, 2012|By Michael Muskal
(Kathy Kmonicek/Associated…)

To the list of people angry about the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, add many of the emergency workers who helped restore power on Long Island but have yet to receive their full pay and expenses.

According to one of the unions representing electrical workers, as many as 17,000 employees -- some of whom worked on Sandy cleanup and some who didn’t -- are having trouble getting paid by National Grid, which operates the power system for the Long Island Power Authority, the nonprofit municipal utility.

Some employees say they haven’t received overtime pay and others say  payroll deductions for mortgages, child support or alimony were missed, Dan Hurley, president of Local 369 of the Utility Workers Union of America in Massachusetts, said in a telephone interview.

“This is a company in crisis,” Hurley told the Los Angeles Times. “They shifted from one computer payroll system to another and it didn’t function. There was no contingency plan. It’s the same as the storm response on Long Island. Everything was done on a wing and a prayer.”

National Grid has apologized for the problem and promised to make its employees whole by paying any late fees, for example. It is working as quickly as it can, a spokesman said.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29 and merged with other weather phenomena to create a storm that ripped through the Northeast, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage, becoming the second-most expensive storm after Hurricane Katrina.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have asked the federal government for more than $80 billion in emergency aid and other funds to rebuild. Other hard-hit states, such as Pennsylvania, are expected to seek additional help.

Long Island was hit particularly hard by the storm, which blew down power lines or toppled trees that in turn brought down the transmission lines.

National Grid, which has about 17,000 employees in New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, sent emergency crews to  Long Island, where they worked around the clock and lived in makeshift shelters while restoring power. Residents repeatedly complained to officials about how long it was taking, a frequent outcry on Long Island after major storms.

Unrelated to the storm, National Grid was moving its payroll operations to a new system. The process began in early October and was supposed to be completed by November.

“All we know is we had one payroll system that they used prior to Nov. 1 and that worked fine. And they switched to this new one in the middle of a hurricane and it didn't work at all,” Hurley said. The glitch left some workers with no overtime compensation, less than they had earned or no check at all.

“We have people who were court-ordered for pay alimony and child support towards ... ex-wives. Children aren't getting their pay. In some cases there may be warrants out for these people because they haven't made their court order,” Hurley said.

"We’re taking responsibility and apologizing to our workers," National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said by telephone. "We empathize with the situation," which affects management as well as power line workers, he said.

“Any conversion would be expected to present some challenges. But then we had thousands of people working extended hours in different sites than they normally would and with significant overtime,” Stella said.

Complicating things was that National Grid works with more than 25 unions in the three states, all of which have different rules.

“We are going to be correcting this,” Stella said, adding that the company would compensate workers by paying any late fees or penalties that have arisen.


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