Bankrupt California Utility Wants to Give $235M in Bonuses

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in face of wildfire liability

 

In this Oct. 18, 2017 file photo, a Pacific Gas & Electric crew works on replacing poles destroyed by wildfires in Glen Ellen, Calif. A U.S. judge in San Francisco overseeing a criminal case against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is scaling back his proposals to prevent the utility’s equipment from causing more wildfires. Judge William Alsup said in an order late Tuesday, March 5, 2019, that he’s now considering making PG&E comply with targets in a wildfire mitigation plan that the company submitted to California regulators. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

 

By SUDHIN THANAWALA Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. sought a judge’s approval to pay $235 million in bonuses to thousands of employees despite the California utility’s bankruptcy.

The money is intended to provide incentives to workers and will not be distributed if the company doesn’t meet safety and financial goals, PG&E said in a court filing Wednesday. It said the bonus program has been restructured with its Chapter 11 case in mind and puts a greater emphasis on safety performance.

“In deliberately designing the plan this way, the debtors are sending a clear message to their workforce that the safety of the communities the debtors serve and of their employees is of paramount concern during the restructuring process and into the future,” attorneys for the utility said in court documents.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January in the face of billions of dollars in potential liability from huge wildfires in California in 2017 and 2018, including the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century. That blaze in November 2018 killed 86 people and destroyed most of the town of Paradise.

The utility scrapped its plan to pay $130 million in bonuses for 2018, determining the payments were inappropriate given the wildfires that year and the company’s deteriorating financial situation. Attorneys for wildfire victims had objected to the awards.

An employee union argued that the decision was unfair to workers. The new bonus figure is for work in 2019.

PG&E said bonuses have historically constituted 6 to 20 percent of employees’ pay and brought their total compensation “in line with the market and their peers in the utility space.”

Roughly 10,000 employees are eligible for a bonus this year. They include people with titles such as manager or vice president, but not top level executives who control company policy or report to the board of directors, PG&E said in its court filing.

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