Monday, July 16, 2012

PULP Moves to Intervene in Proceeding Regarding Deterioration of Customer Service During Con Edison Lockout

The Consolidated Edison Company of New York ("Con Edison") locked out about  8,500 of its unionized employees on July 1, 2012.  On July 11, the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO Local 1-2  and others petitioned the Public Service Commission requesting an immediate investigation regarding safety, reliability, and customer service deterioration due to the lockout, and seeking interim relief requiring an end to the lockout.  The PSC directed Con Edison to respond by Tuesday, July 17.  See  PSC Directs Con Edison to Respond to Petition for Investigation of Service Impairment Due to Company's Lockout of Unionized Workers.  
PULP filed a motion to intervene on July 12 supporting the union petition for an investigation regarding the possible erosion of vital customer services, including the alleged closure of customer service walk-in centers, and the cessation of most meter reading (with apparent reliance on estimated bills). 

PULP pointed out that historically, in June and July of last year, Con Edison shut off more than 5,000 customers per month and negotiated more than 30,000 individualized deferred payment agreements each month.  These agreements are essential to maintaining or restoring service to customers who owe arrears for prior service.  PULP argues that if customers cannot obtain service, or cannot restore service after a shutoff with full payment or a payment agreement negotiated with Con Edison, or promptly obtain service after a payment of utility assistance is made, the utility may be violating its basic duty to serve its customers and the public, the Home Energy Fair Practices Act, and Social Services Law 131-s.

PULP's intervention motion cites a prior PSC Order in Case 99-M-0851 approving the settlement of a prior case that stopped Con Edison from closing its walk in customer service centers, in which the Company was mandated to reopen and to keep full service customer service centers open in each borough of New York City and in Westchester County.  The Order states:  
Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. shall establish and maintain at least one facility in each of the five boroughs of New York City and in the County ofWestchester, whether at an existing Customer Service Center, or at a Walk-in Center to be established in the nearby vicinity of a Customer Service Center to be closed. All Walk-in Centers must be accessible by public transportation and must be open to customers from no less time than 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday each week, holidays excluded. Each Walk-in Center must provide, at a minimum, all of the services formerly available to customers at the company's Customer Service Centers. All such services shall be provided by Customer Care Professionals employed by Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., except that the   function of accepting payments may be provided by tellers or cashiers employed by Primary Agents.
ROCHESTER GAS & ELECTRIC CORPORATION TO SUSPEND CLOSURE OF ITS CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTERS of former PSC Chairman Maureen O. Helmer in PSC Case 02-M-1465 in which she directed the investigation of impending NYSEG customer service office closings and possible diminution of customer service which, on an interim basis, halted the closure of the customer service offices.  The Order states:

Due to RG&E's failure to notify the Commission of its intention to close its Centers and or to provide supporting information, the Commission does not have information upon which to determine the reasonableness of the company's action.[footnote omitted] Inasmuch as the Centers may provide an important and essential role related to customers' ability to apply for and continue service and enable the company to carry out its customer service obligations (see e.g., Public Service Law Article 2), the Commission must determine whether the closures would adversely impact customer service quality. The Commission's concerns relate to continuation of the customer service functions that are typically provided at customer service centers (e.g., application for service, billing complaints, payment arrangements to avoid service termination, bill payment), traffic volumes at the Centers, and RG&E's outreach plan to educate customers about their customer service options.
PULP also cited a similar interim Order of former PSC Chairman William M. Flynn 03-M-0380 which directed New York State Gas & Electric ("NYSEG") to keep customer service offices open. The ORDER INSTITUTING PROCEEDING AND DIRECTING NEW YORK STATE ELECTRIC & GAS CORPORATION TO SUSPEND CLOSURE OF ITS CUSTOMER SERVICE CENTERS states:
The closure of the Centers may be inconsistent with, and impair, NYSEG's obligation to provide safe and adequate service and customer service protections, as required by
Articles 2 and 4 of the Public Service Law. Therefore, this proceeding is commenced to examine NYSEG's proposal, including, but not limited to, the impact, if any, of the proposed closures on customer service quality, the nature, scope and extent of notice provided to customers, and the quality of available alternatives. To ensure that NYSEG's customers are adequately protected until the investigation of this matter is completed, NYSEG is directed to continue the full operation of its Centers until the Commission issues a final order in this proceeding.
PULP's motion asked the PSC to provide appropriate interim relief and to conduct a thorough investigation whether, during the lockout, Con Edison's customer service deteriorated and whether it breached its universal service obligations or violated the Public Service Law and the prior Commission Order requiring maintenance of full service walk in customer service centers.

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