Still in the height of fire season, linemen in Lompoc are speaking out.
Electric line workers there say they are facing a critical shortage in manpower and the city has known about the looming issue for years and is sweeping it under the rug.
The city of Lompoc oversees their own electric utilities whereas other cities utilize PG& E or Edison.
The linemen that work and maintain those Lompoc lines have a dire warning for the community.
“People don’t worry about power until a problem, and that is the problem,” said Travis Border, a 12KV Electric Lineman Troubleshooter for the City of Lompoc.
Border is one of Lompoc’s seven electric linemen authorized to work on the 123 miles of high voltage lines, responsible for close to 16,000 customers.
“We have ten people now, three are apprentices and aren’t going to be qualified to do any work for four years and then five guys retiring, that leaves us with very little manpower and it’s going to be a huge concern,” said Border.
Border and his colleagues spell it out, Lompoc is facing a critical linemen shortage, and unless something gives, the community could suffer.
“If anybody turns on the news, they see what happens when power lines aren’t maintained properly it can be a problem,” said Border, referencing the fire risk that comes with downed or aging lines.
It’s an issue the city says they’ve been aware of for several years and officials say they are actively recruiting.
“We are facing many of the same staffing challenges that other organizations are facing, we’re no different in that, but we are looking to fill those positions and hire them,” said Samantha Scroggin, Public Information Officer for the City of Lompoc.
Border says simply put, they can’t recruit or retain electric line workers.
“Everybody that has left to go to a different utility, you ask them why they went to a different utility it’s because we’ve done a salary survey and it comes out that we are 27% below average for the area that we live in,” said Border.
“We aim to be competitive here at the City. There are some neighboring jurisdictions that do pay more, however, we believe that with our quality of life here we have added benefits of staying here in the city and it is a great place to work,” said Scroggin.
Lompoc city officials say management is looking into compensation packages and other creative ways to fill the void.
“I think that’s something that we’re trying to figure out, I think it is, being fully transparent, that is a challenge that the city faces is recruiting and retaining electric line workers. We value our employees, and we want to keep them, and we’re working on the best way to possibly do that,” said Scroggin.
With crews stretched thin, Border is looking at what he calls an impossible task, having even fewer linemen by 2021 to keep customer power on, maintain lines and respond to emergencies – and that’s if the apprentices stay on.
“I still have 30 more years to go until I retire so if I do decide to stay in Lompoc, I’m not going to have hardly any manpower working underneath me or working with me. That’s putting more weight on my shoulders, that’s putting more weight on my coworker’s shoulders, and the workers are getting stressed out about it,’ said Border.
While the city does have a recruitment program, Border says since 2015, the Electric Department has lost ten employees, and seven left to work for other utility companies.