WMECO to close Greenfield facility
GREENFIELD — By the end of 2014, Western Massachusetts Electric Co. will base its Franklin County work force in Hadley, to consolidate operations and save money.
The company’s union worries the move will delay response times for emergency repairs in the county, although the company downplays the possibility.
William Freeman, assistant business agent for the Local 455 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said, “That means many towns in Franklin County won’t have people right here to get out quickly when there’s a problem.”
Priscilla Ress, a utility spokeswoman, confirmed Tuesday that the Shelburne Road work center will merge with the Hadley center, but said it should not affect service in Franklin County.
“The trucks will be parked in Hadley, but just because we don’t have a work center in Greenfield doesn’t mean no customer service for the county,” said Ress. “We have people on call 24-7,” she said. “We have supervisors and troubleshooters in Franklin County. Just like now, they are our first line of defense. If they can’t fix something, they call in a crew.”
“We know how to react and provide the proper coverage as needed,” she said. “We are experts at distributing our workforce.”
Ress said a Northeast Utilities facilities review was done and found that the Greenfield facility is “vastly under-utilized” and that’s why WMECO is consolidating the two facilities.
She said WMECO plans to close the Greenfield work center in the third quarter of 2014, but will keep customer service and employee safety its priorities.
Freeman said the closing still makes no sense to him or the union.
“We have more than 20 people working out of the Shelburne Road building,” said Freeman. “We service our friends, family and neighbors, the people we sit next to at soccer games. We have a good rapport with them and that’s definitely going to change. It will affect service in this area and people will see a difference in service, no doubt.”
He said 10 linemen, three electricians, two stock clerks, two garage mechanics, two field technicians and several supervisors work at the Greenfield work center.
The local work center serves Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Leyden, Montague, Northfield and Shelburne Falls.
Freeman said his major concern is not just the inconvenience he will experience as an employee — he will have to drive a half-hour from his home in Millers Falls to Hadley each day — but also as a customer.
“If there is a big storm and people in one of our hill towns lose power, I will have to drive from Millers Falls to Hadley, inspect my truck, get things ready and loaded, and then head back to Franklin County,” he said. “That’s a lot of extra time that wouldn’t have to be if I left from Millers Falls to Greenfield.”
Ress said WMECO monitors and prepares when a large storm is on its way. She said the company will have a plan in place and have linemen ready to go when there is a power outage.
“We try to provide the best customer service 24 hours a day, no matter where our work centers are located,” said Ress.
WMECO is headquartered in Springfield and has work centers in Hadley, Greenfield, Pittsfield and West Springfield.
Freeman said he doesn’t understand why the company would want to leave a building it owns in Greenfield to move more than 20 employees to a building it leases in Hadley.
“We have had a presence in Greenfield for many, many years,” said Freeman, who said WMECO has been on Shelburne Road since 1966 and before that, had a facility in downtown Greenfield for many years.
“The Shelburne Road location is so convenient,” said Freeman. “When we’ve had to call for help from companies out of state, the workers have stayed at the hotel across the street, been able to park their big trucks there, and eat at the 99.”
Freeman said instead, by the end of 2014, everyone will have to dispatch from Route 9 in Hadley.
“We’re going to have to fight that traffic, make our way over the bridge and down Damon Road, and then get to (Interstate) 91 to get up to Greenfield,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Ress said moving to Hadley will save the company money — it plans to sell the Greenfield building — and in turn will save its customers money.
“It makes more sense to use a building, even though we lease, that gets a lot of use right now,” said Ress. “It doesn’t make sense to stay in a building that doesn’t.”
The Hadley work center already serves Deerfield, Leverett, Sunderland and Whately in Franklin County.
Ress said the company will monitor response times after the move to Hadley to make sure it is not having a negative impact on its Franklin County customers.