PG&E ramps down workforce ahead of next year's fire season, says it's not 'layoffs': Here's why

Melanie Woodrow Image
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
PG&E reduces workforce ahead of fire season, says it's not 'layoffs'
With just six months to California wildfire season, PG&E says it has ramped down its workforce, reducing the number of contractors in recent weeks.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With just six months to California wildfire season, PG&E says it has ramped down its workforce, reducing the number of contractors in recent weeks.

"To us, it just doesn't make any sense," said Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group President and Founder.

EWG says PG&E laid off at least 800 contract employees over the past few weeks, including many responsible for helping prevent wildfires. PG&E has not confirmed that number.

"It just doesn't make the slightest bit of sense that what they're doing now is cutting back on their workforce. This is the winter time when they should be out there cutting back those branches protecting the transmission lines from the prospect of falling trees," said Cook.

MORE: Layoff tracker: Mass layoffs by tech companies big and small hit the Bay Area

PG&E says it is "not doing layoffs." Rather that it staffs to meet its work plans, starting with its own employees and then using contractors as a flexible resource that it ramps up or down based on the amount of work that needs to be done.

The utility company tells the I-Team it reduced the number of contractors because it completed or nearly completed the 2022 work plans the contractors supported. Also that recent snow in the mountains caused the vegetation management work to stop for the season due to safety and access issues.

PG&E also says a significant reduction in fire acreage in 2022 compared to last year means less contractors were needed to remove dead, dying or burnt trees after a fire.

MORE: PG&E stock sale may mean more cash for California wildfire victims

But critics are doubtful. Michael Aguirre is a Public Interest Attorney.

"PG&E now is dismissing those people because what PG&E has discovered is it's less expensive to control the legislature, the CPUC and the governor's office that it is the fires," said Aguirre.

"It can only add to PG&E's potential liabilities if they're cutting back the workforce that they depend on to make sure that we're going to be relatively safer from wildfire risks," said Cook.

MORE: PG&E left tree debris causing 'fire hazard' for hundreds of Bay Area homeowners, supervisor says

In its statement to ABC7 News, PG&E says it is looking to do more of its tree work in-house including hiring 150 vegetation management inspectors as PG&E employees this year.

Also that it's incorporating other wildfire mitigation programs such as Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings, which turn off power automatically when a risk is detected.

The utility company also says undergrounding more of its powerlines in high fire-risk areas will improve safety, reduce the risk of wildfires and lessen the need for ongoing vegetation management.

"People in Northern California, they really have to wake up and realize that their enforcement their regulators, their police officers are looking the other way when it comes to PG&E obeying safety rules," said Aguirre.

In a blog post, PG&E's Executive Vice President, Chief Risk and Chief Safety Officer said it was inaccurate to suggest reducing the company's temporary workforce would threaten customers' safety.

He also said PG&E still has more than 15,000 contractors working in tandem with 26,000 full-time coworkers.

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