Layoffs unlikely at New Jersey's largest utility

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - The head of the company that owns New Jersey's largest utility said he will not lay off workers, provided the current economic downturn has hit bottom and is followed by a normal recovery.

Ralph Izzo, chief executive officer of Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., said that the Newark-based organization may expand its work force this year if the state approves his proposal to spend $698 million on new infrastructure, such as transformers and transmission lines, on April 3. He said PSEG derives a competitive edge from its veteran work force of 10,500 employees.

Its Public Service Electric and Gas utility provides electricity to 75 percent of New Jersey residents.

"We will not be laying off people if this is the bottom," said Izzo, 51. "I don't think you build the kind of commitment to excellence that we have from our employees by making them feel they're expendable.


The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities is now evaluating PSEG's infrastructure proposal and a second plan to spend $190 million on energy efficiency projects, such as residential energy audits and weatherization. PSEG estimates the two initiatives would create 1,700 jobs.

They account for the majority of the $1 billion in utility infrastructure proposals and $200 million in energy efficiency proposals the state is now reviewing from seven electric and gas utilities.

The board is expected to vote on the infrastructure proposals April 3 and the efficiency proposals June 9.

Gov. Jon Corzine asked utilities in January to accelerate their existing plans for system upgrades to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Izzo's no-layoff promise comes as New Jersey is dealing with mounting job losses, which pushed the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 7.3 percent in January from 6.8 percent in December.

FirstEnergy Corp., parent company of Jersey Central Power & Light, announced plans March 3 to lay off 335 workers. Sixteen of those job cuts occurred in New Jersey, according to Ron Morano, a spokesman for JCP&L.

Paul Patterson, an energy analyst at Glen Rock Associates in New York, said investors value work force stability and PSEG is generally viewed as a stable and lean operation.

"This no-layoff promise is good news from an economic standpoint," said Patterson, who owns no PSEG shares and does not rate stocks. "And the fact that Izzo wants to hire people is generally well received by regulators."

Izzo said his team has been cutting costs elsewhere, including maintenance and operations, to preserve its work force during the recession. The company has also left some positions vacant.

"Layoffs are an absolute last resort," Izzo said. "The filings that we've made are opportunities to increase our work force."


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