Marietta is looking for a few good linemen, and the city appears willing to shell out more dollars to get them.
Linemen, or line workers, are the people whose job it is to build and maintain power lines in the city, and some are worried events elsewhere in the country could mean a shortage of line workers in Marietta.
“The market has drastically changed on us, and a lot of that, this is going to sound awfully strange, is because of California and a lot of the problems they’re having out there with their electrical grid,” said City Manager Bill Bruton at a recent meeting of the City Council’s Personnel and Insurance Committee. “So they’re hiring people from all over the United States and they’re paying them … large amounts of money to go out there and devote a lot of time, a lot of overtime.”
San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the largest utility in the United States, announced changes to its board of directors Monday as it deals with its second bankruptcy in less than 20 years, according to the Associated Press. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signaled he is considering a government takeover of the business.
The Golden State has been luring in linemen from across the country, including 118 from Georgia Power, according to Board of Lights and Water general manager Ron Mull. Georgia Power in turn has been trying to seduce the BLW’s line workers.
Mull said the BLW has four openings and 32 line worker positions. In a particular category of more experienced line workers, the city currently has 11 out of 13 spaces filled. Losing too many of the more experienced workers could be a problem because a crew cannot go out without one of them in charge.
“When we recruit somebody, we bring in an apprentice lineman, it takes them about six years to get to the point where they can work on their own, from a safety standpoint, and be able to train somebody else. … If we continue to lose experienced linemen, it’s going to have an impact on our restoration time, storm restoration, power outages, just addressing the normal issues when we have a problem, much less when a storm comes through, so this is kind of an effort to stop the bleeding, keep what we’ve got.”
Mull said if needed, the BLW can use contractors to temporarily fill empty spots, but that comes at a higher cost than simply hiring a permanent employee.
Currently, an apprentice line worker starts at $16.62 per hour and maxes out at $23.39, while a senior line worker starts at $25.31 per hour and maxes out at $35.61 an hour, according to a job listing on the city website.
Under a plan unanimously approved by the committee last week, a brand new apprentice lineman would start out making $17.62 per hour and max out at $24.80, while a senior line worker would start out making $26.83 an hour and max out at $37.75.
If the full council votes in favor at its Feb. 12 meeting, the pay scheme could go into effect March 1.
Mayor Steve Tumlin, who also chairs the BLW, said there are sufficient funds in the city’s budget set aside for salaries to cover these pay increases, so money will not need to be diverted from anywhere else.
Tumlin said he has spoken with leaders from other cities who are dealing with the same issue, and he thinks the raise will help keep line workers in Marietta.
“It’s obvious this type of career is going to be more attractive financially,” he added. “Going forward, we’d like to make sure bright young people look at this as an opportunity.”