PG&E asks bankruptcy court to keep intact a $130 million cash bonus program for employees

January 29, 2019
George Avalos

Tucked inside PG&E’s mammoth bankruptcy filing is a company request that the judge in the case approve payment of $130 million in cash incentive bonuses to thousands of PG&E employees, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records made public on Tuesday.

The San Francisco-based utility launched a full-scale quest in the bankruptcy court to assure that the company can continue with the short-term incentive programs for 14,000 employees.

“PG&E believes the short-term incentive program awards incentivize strong employee performance and are critical to ensuring that employees stay motivated and reach higher performance standards,” PG&E stated in its request.

The short-term incentive awards are due to be paid out in March for the performance of the workers during 2018, the court documents show.

Word of PG&E’s bonuses request jolted some of the company’s critics.

“PG&E says it’s too poor to pay fire victims but has enough money to pay $130 million in bonuses,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Action, a frequent harsh critic of PG&E and the state Public Utilities Commission. “A company that does that is unworthy of the support of Gov. (Gavin) Newsom, the Legislature and the PUC.”

Sen. Jerry Hill questioned whether PG&E should be handing out bonuses.

“It’s shameful that PG&E would ask for this and it would be shameful if the court approves this,” said Hill, who represents parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties including San Bruno, the site of a fatal gas explosion in 2010 caused by PG&E.

Investigators are still working to determine whether PG&E’s equipment may have sparked November’s calamitous Camp Fire, after the utility reported problems with a transmission line near what was believed to be the origin of the blaze.

On top of this, just days before filing for bankruptcy, PG&E reneged on a $1.2 million settlement with victims of a 2015 fire in Butte County, telling a court that it needed to conserve its cash before filing for Chapter 11.

“They can give out $130 million but can’t pay fire victims,” Hill said. “This is an affront and an abuse of our system if these bonuses are approved.”

Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group, pointed out that rank-and-file workers at PG&E are attempting to undertake work in a proper and motivated fashion. Toney, instead, blames PG&E management for PG&E’s woes starting with the San Bruno explosion and extending to the lethal infernos of 2017 and 2018.

“This is completely outrageous,” Toney said. “It is management that has doctored records and falsified reports. It is management that is responsible for the fires. It is PG&E’s management that needs to be fired for its negligence, mismanagement and running PG&E into the ground.”

The company said that no top-level executives would be receiving the bonuses referenced in the filing, although some managers would be receiving the bonuses.

PG&E also has requested that the bankruptcy court block an attempt by federal regulators to oblige the embattled utility to keep buying wholesale power from two green energy companies, NextEra Energy and Exelon.

NextEra and Exelon, just ahead of PG&E’s bankruptcy on Tuesday, won an order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that even if PG&E filed to reorganize its finances under Chapter 11, the company should be forced to continue with the wholesale power payments. PG&E wants the bankruptcy court to block the FERC order.

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