Did Going Cheap and Working Non-Union Cause Superdome Blackout?

Labor Organizing Rebuild New Orleans

New Orleans   Football season might be over, but the pain of the blackout during the Super Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome still smarts in New Orleans.  SMG’s Doug Thornton, the Superdome management company, and Entergy, our Fortune 500 utility, both promise a full, independent, and “transparent” investigation.

We’ll see if that is really what develops, because there are some big time questions that simply have to be answered.

Word around New Orleans in the trade and among union ranks is that some of the questions need to focus on whether this new “feeder” job was a “wink-and-nod” to non-union electrical contractor, Allstar Electric.  Despite the fact that all of the news reports indicate that a study done months before the big game had indicated there were problems that could be significant, the contract to Allstar went to them on a no-bid basis with no competition based on a so-called “emergency” basis.

This was surprising because all of the major electrical jobs from the initial building of the Superdome to the totally new rewiring that was partially paid for by FEMA after Katrina in 2005 have always been done by union contractors, particularly Frischhertz Electric, which is by far the largest electrical contractor in the city of New Orleans with over 250 electricians.  This time, Frischhertz, which certainly knows the system inside and out was not even allowed to bid from what I can tell.

How much of this was also driven not just by more lax performance and testing standards, but just the State of Louisiana trying to save a buck seems impossible to separate from any transparent investigation as well.  Reports indicate that outside electrical audits recommended work to upgrade the feeders and other issues ranging from $250,000 to as high as $6,000,000.  The board approved up to $1,000,000 for the work, and spent more than $500,000 with Allstar getting it done.  Was the board of the Louisiana Superdome really looking at how to make sure the game went off without a hitch and New Orleans and the state looked good on primetime or were they looking over their shoulder at the continual penny pinching politics of Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, his current mandate to save at all costs, and his ambitions to run for the White House?

New Orleans may be saved as a bidder in the future by the good graces of Commissioner Roger Goodell, not wanting to throw more salt in the city’s wounds after the Saints “bountygate” debacle this last season and by the luck of the TV ratings having climbed after the blackout.  Nonetheless, any real investigation needs to look at what kind of judgments were made by management on the cheap to abandon union electricians who had made sure the lights stayed on for decades at the Superdome both on the maintenance staff and the contractor’s crews and to be penny wise and pound foolish in the face of something as huge as the Super Bowl and what it means for the city and state.

“No bid” and “emergency” need clearer definitions when it means that 100 million people watched us dance in the dark at the Superdome, rather than playing for the championship.