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Erik Burgess, Published January 15 2014

Moorhead Public Service decides not to raise pay for linemen

MOORHEAD – Commissioners for the city’s publicly-owned utility here have decided not to raise wages for its electrical line workers.

Moorhead Public Service commissioners have held several closed meetings in recent weeks to discuss raising wages for its 11 journeymen linemen, some of whom MPS General Manager Bill Schwandt believes are leaving Moorhead for higher-paying jobs at Xcel Energy in Fargo.

Commission members went into an hours-long closed session on Tuesday, and when they emerged, they decided not to raise pay at this time, Schwandt said.

Two journeymen linemen, highly trained workers who maintain and repair power lines, left MPS last year for Xcel, Schwandt said, and two or three more could leave MPS soon.

“(The commissioners) talked about recruiting and getting systems in place so we can make sure we attract the necessary people to make sure we have a reliable system, but they didn’t take any action,” Schwandt said. “I don’t think the conversation is over, but it’s over for right now.”

MPS pays its linemen about $37 an hour, and Xcel pays about $3.50 more than that per hour, Schwandt said. He said part of the issue is the commission would have had to find a way to pay for the raises.

Schwandt said the utility’s contract with the union representing the linemen – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – will expire this year, so the topic of pay will likely come up again as the commission looks to renew the agreement later this year.

The union also represents workers from Xcel and Cass County Electric Cooperative, Schwandt said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518