MLGW After the Storm 

MLGW After the Storm

If your house were on fire, would you care if the firemen who responded came from West Memphis, Memphis, Southaven, or Germantown?

Not likely. That must be how tens of thousands of people still without power more than a week after the big storm felt, and how the thousands whose power remains off two weeks after the storm are still feeling.

As part of the "cleanup," our elected officials should insist that MLGW give us the following information by the end of August:

Why is it unsafe to hire Entergy linemen and subcontractors but not unsafe to have MLGW crews, many of whom had sweltered sleeplessly for seven or more consecutive days in their own powerless homes, working in perilous jobs 14 hours a day?

Why were Entergy's experienced personnel and subcontractors, who were demonstrably willing to assist MLGW on Thursday, July 24th, really turned away? MLGW spokespeople say that they weren't available until Saturday. Entergy says they were available immediately. Who's lying?

What was the hourly overtime rate for MLGW linemen and employees, and what, if any, premiums were paid beyond overtime? What rates were negotiated with the utility companies and contractors that came to the aid of MLGW and Memphis?

What price did Entergy propose for the spurned offer of assistance from 775 crewmen and subcontractors gathered at the Mississippi state line two days after the storm?

Why, when faced with damage from a storm of similar magnitude, did an investor-owned utility in Kansas City hire more than twice as many outside workers as MLGW did and complete the job without any reported fatalities or serious injuries within 10 days?

That will do for starters.

We are not ungrateful for the job MLGW and the city of Memphis are doing cleaning up from the storm, and anyone who suggests that raising these questions implies disdain for repair crews is missing the point.

MLGW officials and employees have admitted to the Flyer that there is a culture clash, both between union and non-union workers and between municipally owned MLGW and investor-owned Entergy. The statement in The Commercial Appeal this week that the two utilities have "a real good relationship" is public relations nonsense.

Spokesmen for both companies confirm that they do not have a mutual assistance agreement. Nor, as officials of the companies also confirm, have these next-door neighbors assisted each other during a variety of recent storms in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The few MLGW employees who helped out in a West Memphis storm were there at the request of West Memphis, not Entergy.

"A real good relationship" means more than issuing press releases to daily newspaper apologists. It means ironing out differences and forming a genuine mutual assistance agreement as soon as possible.

Memphis has had one catastrophic ice storm and two catastrophic wind storms in nine years. When the next storm hits, we'll need all the help we can get.

It was troubling that it took more than a week for Mayor Herenton and MLGW president Herman Morris to hold a joint news conference, and that when they did they were physically far apart instead of shoulder-to-shoulder. They can talk all they want about cooperation, but in this case a picture was worth 1,000 words.

This has nothing to do with mayoral candidate John Willingham's efforts to make

political hay from frustration over the cleanup. It has nothing to do with union bashing or maligning the good work that's being done by the city and MLGW.

The issue is how to do a better job next time.

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