Weekend power outages bring reminder of concerns about lineworkers' pay

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COLUMBIA - The power outages people experienced over the weekend demonstrates Columbia's "luck has run out" when it comes to a reported shortage of lineworkers, according to the author of a report.

Jim Windsor, the retired assistant director of utilities, released a December report that said 10 lineworkers had left to work at utilities that pay more than the city. 

In an interview Monday, Windsor said having fewer lineworkers impacts how quickly people get their power back.

"It is ridiculous that the city doesn't take [a] more proactive stance and pay appropriately and try to bring people back to the utility rather than allowing them to leave," Windsor said.

Jay Hasheider, a member of the Water and Light Advisory Board, said, when he brought up Windsor's report at a board meeting, staff did not dispute the numbers.

Just because the city owns the utility does not mean it should pay its lineworkers like the rest of city employees, he said. 

Hasheider said the utility is competing for employees, not customers, and should pay its workers competitively. 

"They have to be trained and paid and given the same opportunities that these other businesses that we are competing for their talents are doing," he said.

As many as 9,300 customers were without power Saturday evening. That morning, the city requested mutual aid and sought a "declaration of emergency."

Crews from Waynesville, Macon, Palmyra and Rolla responded, according to a news release. Contractors PAR Electrical and Asplundh were also assisting the city.

Columbia did not have statistics available Monday on how many Water and Light employees were in the field working to get power on, how may lineworkers Water and Light has on staff and how much money would be paid to the agencies that provided mutual aid.

In an email, city spokesman Brian Adkisson said, "I can say all available City resources are being used to respond to the winter weather."

Lizzandra Abshier, who lives on Miramar Lane, said she was without power from approximately 11 p.m. Friday until 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

She used her fireplace to cook and  keep the house warm.

"We kept it at 73. I was cranking it. Lots of wood," she said.

Rick Schulz, who moved to Columbia from Green Bay, Wisconsin about a year ago, said he has never seen such heavy snow.

"This is the worst snowstorm as far as snow being heavy and knocking down power lines and trees," he said.