June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:35 PM
"Puget Sound Energy is boasting about its efforts to cut trees away from its power lines on South Whidbey, but the company isn't talking about another kind of cutting we reported on earlier this month -- that is cutting its force of unionized line workers, of which there are some 26 on Whidbey Island and 2,000 company-wide.The 26 local workers maintain the power lines and respond rapidly to emergency outages on the island. Now, Puget Sound Energy may be looking to axe most of them in favor of contracting out the work to other companies.This raises obvious concerns beyond the devastating impact the plan would have on 26 local families. It could well mean islanders will be spending much more time in the dark if the subcontracting plan takes effect.As a union official explained, the subcontractors will go where they're called first during a storm. If a big wind from the south leaves swaths of Oregon in the dark, the line workers will head there. By the time the storm reaches our area, there may not be enough line workers to deal with the damage. They'll get around to us after they finish their work in Oregon, or Bellevue, or Whatcom County, or wherever they're needed first.This appears to be purely a cold-hearted, cost-saving measure taken at the expense of local customers, but don't think it won't be done. The same company and its predecessor, Puget Power, has a solid track record of cutting costs regardless of the local impact. They closed the South Whidbey local office, eliminated the local manager and office staff, unnecessarily clearcut a forest near Langley to turn a quick profit, and put senior citizens and the disabled at risk by yanking the generator that had supplied emergency power to South Whidbey for two decades.It appears that Puget Sound Energy managers are planning to eliminate all but what they consider essential services -- meaning the billing department.Whidbey Islanders were outraged by poor emergency service from PSE in the winter of 1997, resulting in a series of meetinga with company representatives and little else. Fortunately, we've had two mild winters since then. But if PSE is allowed to eliminate its unionized line crews, we can safely say that when it comes to power outages on Whidbey Island, we ain't seen nothin' yet. "