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TID, linemen continue contract talks
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The ongoing labor dispute between the Turlock Irrigation District and a union representing electric lineworkers escalated Tuesday, with no end in sight.

In closed session on Tuesday, TID directors voted unanimously to deny a compensation grievance filed by the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers.

No details were made available about the grievance, as district staff was unsure if disclosure would violate attorney-client privilege. Closed session items are typically exempt from disclosure requirements under Public Records Act law.

More information about the grievance may be made available today, after complete review by TID counsel.

The dispute dates back to April 2011, when negotiations between TID and IBEW began. The IBEW’s contract with TID expired in December 2011, but IBEW members have continued to work under the terms of that past contract.

Some customers were affected by the dispute from Sept. 28 -30, when a 45 hour electricity outage hit 49 TID customers. During that weekend outage, TID staff attempted many times to contact line crews, represented by IBEW, to no avail. All 40 qualified TID electric workers did not answer their phones when called for help.

TID then requested assistance from multiple nearby utilities, but their IBEW-represented crews declined to help. Private electric contractors were called to help, but were convinced to leave by IBEW members. A Pacific Gas & Electric crew ultimately repaired the lines.

After denying the grievance, TID directors met with IBEW representatives to continue negotiations. No result was reached.

A scheduled Dec. 11 closed session meeting between TID directors and the IBEW was previously cancelled, with no explanation given. The two sides last met during a special closed session meeting, held Nov. 28. No report was made following that meeting.


TID budget approved

The TID Board of Directors unanimously approved a 2013 budget which calls for higher revenues and essentially flat non-capital spending.

“Thanks for all of the hard work,” said TID Board Chairman Michael Frantz. “ … I know that you’ve tried your best to keep it as lean as possible in light of the times.”

The budget forecasts $358 million in revenues, up from $335 in 2012.

Non-debt, non-capital expenses are budgeted at $319 million, up 4 percent from a year ago. The increase is attributed to rising costs for benefits, negotiations, insurance, medical, and fuel.

Capital expenses are down sharply, from $84 million to $48 million. Major projects, such as construction on the Almond 2 Power Plant in Crows Landing, were completed in the 2012 capital budget, while the 2013 budget calls only for standard repair and growth of the district’s $1.2 billion in capital assets.

The district will employ 452 workers in 2013, down from 462. None of the eliminated positions were filled.

The new budget includes an electric rate increase, part of a three-year stepped rate increase approved in 2011 to offset the rising costs of meeting state renewable energy requirements. The increase was the district’s first since 2009, when rates went up 15 percent system wide.

Rates rose 4 percent on Jan. 1, and will rise 4 percent Jan. 1, 2013, and a further 4 percent Jan. 1, 2014. The 2013 increase, accounted for under the “environmental charge” label on bills, will amount to $5 per month for most customers.



Nees retires

After a 34 year career with the Turlock Irrigation District, Assistant General Manager of Water Resources and General Affairs Bob Nees has retired.

“When I first came, I did not envision today,” Nees said. “I had no idea where it would go. But that's what life's about – there's lots of twists and turns, and you take them as they come.”

Nees started with the district in 1979, when he was hired to serve as a Public Information Officer – back in the days long before Facebook and Twitter. In 1993, having shown leadership skills, Nees was promoted to the post of General Affairs and Public Service Administrator. In 1995, he was promoted to his current post.

Nees has become regarded as a wealth of knowledge with his years of experience; only six people who were employed by TID when Nees first started still work at the utility.

During his tenure, Nees helped negotiate river flows, Don Pedro Reservoir operations, and worked with cities on a planned drinking water plant.

“Bob has become our de facto expert on all aspects of water and irrigation,” said TID General Manager Casey Hashimoto.