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Hurricanes and Service

December 4, 2012

A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Mr. Devaney about his father and the dedication of electric utility linemen, reminded me of the esprit de corps at the GE Service businesses where I spent many years.

The men and women of GE’s service business were dedicated beyond what one might expect. They spent many Christmases and holidays away from their families to repair or restore equipment and facilities that had been damaged.

The work they did was often dangerous and dirty.

While I was GM of the Cleveland service facility, the sewage treatment plant in Elyria, Ohio was flooded and put out of operation. The GE service men and women worked around the clock at the sewage plant, in filthy, putrid conditions to restore the sewage plant to operation. Some of the dirty, water-soaked equipment had to be brought to the GE 150,000-sq.-ft. service facility to be cleaned, dried out and repaired. This workload was on top of already existing orders for repairing equipment or providing on-site service elsewhere, such as at steel mills and power plants.

Similarly, every few years, a hurricane would cause widespread damage, such as the one that flooded the Connecticut River. GE service people worked around the clock for several days after these hurricanes to dry out motors and electric gear, and to restore businesses to operation.

No one can force people to work under conditions such as those at the Elyria sewage treatment plant or in the destruction that follows a hurricane.

They did it because of pride and a sense of service.

Mr. Devaney’s op-ed described how his father, a utility lineman, would work under similar conditions – for the same reasons, “macho” pride and dedication, that I saw at GE’s service business.

During my time at the Cleveland service facility, there was a companywide strike at GE that extended over Christmas and New Years. These same workers were caught up in the strike over companywide issues, over which they had no control. It was a cold winter, and the pickets would huddle around a fire built in an oil barrel at the front gate.

We had an office Christmas party for employees, and I went to the pickets and asked them to join us in the warmth of our building for a Christmas meal with trimmings. These people deserved to be honored in that small way, even during a strike.

After Sandy, thousands of utility linemen worked for long hours, in dangerous conditions to restore electricity to the millions who were without power. Hot circuits, a live back-feed, and a downed “live” wire can mean death or horrible burns to people who are working under these difficult conditions.

It’s repugnant to me when politicians criticize private utilities and their workers for failing to get power restored as quickly as politicians would like – when it’s the politicians who have failed to provide heat, food and water to those who are unavoidably without electricity.

Devaney WSJ Link http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324735104578117320031041716.html?mod=ITP_opinion_0

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