NIPSCO Hiring Draws 2,800 Applicants

By Keith Benman, Business Writer
The Times


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December 2, 2003

Northern Indiana Public Service Co. plans to hire up to 175 skilled workers for entry-level positions that will become available over the next three months.

The hiring is driven by anticipated retirements and the possible reopening of the Mitchell Generating Station in Gary, according to NIPSCO.

The hiring comes just as a national economic recovery appears to be kicking into gear and steel companies in the region appear to be entering a period of stability after three years of bankruptcies and mass layoffs.

"The labor market in northern Indiana has many experienced electricians, plant operators and other skilled employees who lost their jobs during the recent economic downturn," said Doug Bobillo, NIPSCO labor relations director. "This is a chance for NIPSCO to help promote an economic turnaround and employ some of those experienced workers."

NIPSCO has already received 2,800 applications in response to advertisements for the positions, according to Regina Biddings, a NIPSCO spokeswoman.

Most new hires will start out as meter readers with an hourly pay rate of $13.04 per hour, plus health benefits, vacation, and a 401k package that is among the area's best, according to NIPSCO. Once hired, new employees can bid on skilled positions where pay ranges from $20 to $30 per hour.

Candidates are required to have a two-year technical degree or equivalent work experience in a skilled trade.

Union officials on Monday said they have been told by company officials that up to 42 percent of NIPSCO's work force will become eligible for retirement by mid-year 2007. There currently are 300 NIPSCO jobs posted for bid by union members, according to Barry Norvell, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 12775.

Norvell said he doesn't think the utility will actually take on 175 people in this round of hiring, but he said the fact they are hiring at all is good news.

"I think it's a positive thing," Norvell said. "And it's long overdue and all a very positive thing."

About 100 jobs were eliminated at the Mitchell Generating Station when it closed at the end of 2001. The utility also plans to eliminate jobs by consolidating maintenance centers.

The union bitterly fought the closing of the Mitchell Generating Station. Steelmaking companies later complained to state regulators that the Mitchell closure was forcing them to pay higher prices for NIPSCO electricity. They recently reached a settlement with NIPSCO that gives them a discount on power until Mitchell is reopened.

NIPSCO still has not made a final decision on whether or not to reopen Mitchell, according to Biddings. But the company has been talking to the union for months about issues involving its possible startup.

The utility currently operates three coal-fired generating plants which provide most of its electric power needs.

NIPSCO has 430,000 electric customers and 700,000 natural gas customers in Northern Indiana. It is the largest utility in the state and a subsidiary of Fortune 500 holding company NiSource Inc.

http://www.thetimesonline.com/articles/2003/12/02/business/

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