Officials Ask Regulators To Review Reports Of NU Outsourcing [The Hartford Courant]
(Hartford Courant (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 21--State officials called on regulators to review what effect the potential outsourcing of Northeast Utilities' information technology department might have on its ability to respond to major storms, according to a letter filed Friday with the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
Representatives from the attorney general's office and the Office of Consumer Counsel met with Northeast Utilities last week to follow up on nearly a dozen reports that the company was planning to outsource more than 400 IT jobs to two India-based firms.
"A lot of people are raising a lot of concerns, and I think the company needs to provide whatever assurances they can and answer any questions they can so people know what's going on," Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz said in an interview Friday.
Northeast Utilities spokeswoman Tricia Modifica said the company is looking for ways "to streamline and improve IT functions so that we can deliver a high level of service to our customers at the least cost. As we work to design an IT organization that can accomplish this, we will share any decisions that we make with our regulators and employees when the time comes."
Four employees, who spoke with The Courant on the condition of anonymity, said they were told in meetings that two IT companies had been chosen by Northeast Utilities to take over the department's functions and that the final details of the deal were being worked out.
The electric and gas utility -- whose divisions include Yankee Gas and Connecticut Light & Power -- acknowledged earlier this month that it was looking into "streamlining" the department, but it would not say whether outsourcing was being considered and would not answer questions about the potential move's effect on employees.
In addition to the storm readiness concern, the letter filed Friday asks regulators to review whether such a move would be in compliance with an agreement between the utility and state officials signed March 2012 to approve the utility's merger with Massachusetts-based NStar.
"After a discussion with NU officials on this subject, we believe PURA should review this matter directly to ensure that it can protect the interests" of the state and ratepayers, Attorney General George Jepsen and Katz said in the letter.
"We recognize that the outsourcing or elimination of jobs by NU is not per se a violation of the Settlement Agreement and that not all corporate actions that impact Connecticut jobs at NU are necessarily merger-related," they wrote.
Under one scenario, employees say, the utility could eliminate most of its 405 information technology jobs in New England -- 281 employees in Connecticut alone -- splitting the work between the two IT firms.
Although the companies bidding for the work are based in India, it's unclear how many jobs would be transferred overseas or to other locations.
If regulators launch a review of the outsourcing, it would make public at least some information about the move, adding a layer of transparency to a process that both employees and state officials say is needed.
Last week, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz met with the utility to discuss the reports of outsourcing, and left unsatisfied.
Aresimowicz, who represents Berlin, where the company is headquartered, said that it didn't "provide much information beyond confirming that they are looking at improving 'best practices' throughout the company, including the information technology department, that would include outsourcing."
"I have told Northeast Utilities that I have cleared my schedule to be wherever I need to be to work with them to keep these jobs right here in Connecticut where they belong," Aresimowicz said.
The utility company came under fire late last year from Connecticut officials who wanted to know why it wasn't reporting such job reductions relating to its recent merger with NStar. In a further settlement with officials, the utility agreed to begin making quarterly reports on job levels.
According to data from its most recent filing, employment at the utility has fallen by 4.3 percent, from 9,075 to 8,679, since the merger was announced.
(c)2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
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