OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Study: Identifying population of mentally ill ‘frequent fliers’ first step to reducing police contact

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Identifying the population of people with mental illness who have frequent contact with police could help law enforcement officials and community agencies allocate limited resources to those with the highest needs, new research from Oregon State University indicates. 

These individuals, often referred to as “frequent fliers” because of their repeated interaction with law enforcement, can consume a large amount of police time and resources, according to researchers in the School of Public Policy in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

Identifying and understanding the population can aid policymakers as they work to reduce the frequent and time-consuming interactions, sociologists Scott Akins and Brett Burkhardt said.

“This contact is rarely criminal in nature at the outset,” said Burkhardt, an assistant professor of sociology. “It’s usually a peace officer custody arrest, which is a type of arrest that occurs because a person is believed to be a danger to themselves or others due to a suspected mental illness. But there’s a limited amount of resources, so if we identify people with the highest needs, we can focus resources on those folks.”

Once a local region has identified its population of frequent fliers, community agencies and policy-makers can use the information to change or implement policies to assist those with the highest needs, the researchers said.

“It’s a strategic way to create a more cost-effective and humane way to assist the mentally ill,” said Akins, an associate professor of sociology.

For example, some communities may benefit from the use of mental health courts to address criminal charges for people with mental health needs, he said. Typically in such courts, a collaborative team that includes attorneys, parole and probation representatives and mental health agency representatives work together to address the individual’s needs. That may include a referral for counseling or substance abuse treatment.

Burkhardt and Akins began researching frequent fliers in 2012 in collaboration with law enforcement officials in Corvallis and Benton County. Law enforcement officials had noticed what they believed was an increase in calls related to suspected mental health issues.

They asked Akins, Burkhardt and a team of graduate students to determine if that was in fact the case and, if so, to assist with some potential responses to the trend. The researchers’ findings and recommendations were published recently in the journal “Criminal Justice Policy Review.”

The study was co-authored by Charles Lanfear, who worked on the project as a graduate student at OSU. The research was supported by OSU as well as by the Benton County Sheriff’s office, which provided funding for a graduate student internship related to the research.

Akins and Burkhardt reviewed six years of records, from 2007 through 2012, from the Corvallis Police Department and Benton County Sheriff’s Office and found that peace officer custody arrests increased dramatically from 2011 to 2012, jumping from 144 to 245.

They also found that time spent on mental-health related calls – those where the subject was believed to have a mental illness or mental health crisis – nearly doubled during the six-year period, going from 248 hours annually to 489 hours.

In addition, the researchers determined that of the 697 people placed in peace officer custody for mental health issues, about 17 percent were taken into custody multiple times. A smaller group of 38 frequent fliers had multiple mental health-related arrests in a 14-day span.

“This study validated our perspective that law enforcement contacts with community members having a mental health crisis have significantly risen over the past few years,” Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman said. “It also showed how important it is that we work with all community assets to support individuals in need to prevent situations from generating a law enforcement response.”

While the research focused on Corvallis and Benton County, the method used to identify the frequent fliers is easily replicable by other agencies, the researchers said. That’s important because the rise in police contact with the mentally ill is not unique to Corvallis and Benton County. People with mental illness are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system across the country, Burkhardt said.

Police interaction with individuals with mental health issues can be time-consuming and frustrating for law enforcement officials, who may have some crisis intervention training but are not experts in working with the mentally ill, the researchers said. In addition, the contact can have the potential to become volatile.

The researchers’ findings highlight the need for ongoing collaboration and communication between law enforcement officials and health agencies that are likely to encounter the frequent flier population, the researchers said. In Benton County, local agencies are now exploring the feasibility of a mental health court and are looking at ways to maximize existing systems that have been under-used in the past, Sassaman said.

Akins and Burkhardt said agencies may want to make the monitoring of their frequent flier population part of their regular data collection. They also recommend studying any policy changes made based on the data, to see if the changes have a positive effect in reducing police contact with the mentally ill.

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Scott Akins, 541-737-5370, sakins@oregonstate.edu; or Brett Burkhardt, 541-737-2310 or Brett.burkhardt@oregonstate.edu

Treadmill desks offer limited benefits, pose challenges in the workplace, study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Treadmill desks can help overweight or obese office workers get out of their chairs and get moving, but a 12-week study by an Oregon State University researcher found that the increase in physical activity was small and did not help workers meet public health guidelines for daily exercise.

Introducing treadmill desks in the workplace also can pose logistical challenges that may not make such a program feasible for companies, said John M. Schuna, Jr., an assistant professor of exercise and sports science in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

In a small study of treadmill desk use by overweight and obese office workers, Schuna and his colleagues found that workers who used the desks increased their average number of daily steps by more than 1,000, but did not record any significant weight loss or changes in Body Mass Index after 12 weeks. The employees only used the treadmills about half the time they were asked to, averaging one session and 45 minutes a day on the machines, Schuna said.

“Treadmill desks aren’t an effective replacement for regular exercise, and the benefits of the desks may not justify the cost and other challenges that come with implementing them,” Schuna said.

His findings were published recently in the “Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.” Co-authors include Damon L. Swift of East Carolina University and several researchers from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The research was supported by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Treadmill desks have been gaining popularity as a solution for helping sedentary workers out of their desk chairs during the work day. Schuna and his colleagues wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of such desks in changing workers’ behavior.

“There’s been a societal shift to more sedentary work and we are not making it up in our leisure time,” Schuna said. “We were trying to identify ways we could increase physical activity and combat the decline in occupational physical activity we’ve seen in the past 50 years.”

The study targeted overweight and obese office workers whose jobs at a private health insurance company required continuous desk work. About 40 employees participated in the 12-week study, with half using the treadmills and the other half serving as a control group for comparison.

While the participants who used treadmills did increase their daily step counts, they tended, on average, to walk at about 1.8 miles an hour, a speed that would generally be considered light intensity physical activity. Public health guidelines suggest adults need 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity several days a week.

“This was not moderate-intensity exercise,” Schuna said. “One of the challenges with the treadmill desk is that it needs to be lower-intensity activity so employees can still perform their work duties.”

There may be cardiovascular or other benefits when people begin increasing their steps, even in small amounts at low intensity, but reversing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle would likely require more activity, including moderate or vigorous exercise, he said.

Researchers faced several challenges with the study, including difficulty recruiting employees to participate. Initially, more than 700 employees of the company were targeted for recruitment, with roughly 10 percent of them expressing interest in participating. Some of those employees were deemed ineligible for the study for a variety of reasons, while others did not receive approval from a supervisor.

They also found work considerations often kept employees from using the desks, even though the company had approved and encouraged employees to participate in the program. Employees shared the treadmill desks, which required scheduling the time they would be using them.

Schuna said the findings from this study indicate that future research on exercise in the workplace should focus on interventions that avoid some of the pitfalls that come with treadmill desks.

“We need to identify some form of physical activity that can be done simply and at a low cost in an office setting,” he said.

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John Schuna, 541-737-1536, john.schuna@oregonstate.edu

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OSU class addresses need for cybersecurity professionals

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A growing need for computer scientists and engineers trained in cybersecurity has led to collaboration between Oregon State University and Intel Security to offer an experiential course in that field, taught by field experts from around the world.

McAfee Labs, part of Intel Security, reported that in 2014 they detected 307 new cyber threats every minute, and the number of malware exploits increased by 76 percent compared to the prior year. In 2015, company officials said they expect an increase in cyber warfare, espionage attacks and new vulnerabilities for mobile devices and cloud computing.

The “Defense Against the Dark Arts” course, designed by Intel Security, was welcomed by OSU as part of its efforts to build a program in computer security. Intel Security previously delivered the course at California Polytechnic State University, and plans to work with OSU to expand the program to other universities in the future through video recordings.

“We are passionate about this field of work and study, and believe that one of the best avenues for combating cybercrime is to educate the next wave of university graduates with the skills necessary to make the cyber world a safer place,” said Candace Worley, senior vice president and general manager for Endpoint Security at Intel Security.

The course offers practical, hands-on experience on topics such as malware and defenses against them; software vulnerabilities; network, web and mobile security tools and techniques.

The class filled to capacity when it opened with 45 computer science majors and 15 electrical and computer engineering majors.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity for our students to have such cutting-edge knowledge, and a workforce development benefit to the industry,” said Ron Adams, interim vice president for research. “It’s a win for everyone.”

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Terri Fiez, 541-737-3118

Education aids understanding, reduces stigma of facial paralysis, OSU study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A little bit of sensitivity training can help people form better first impressions of those with facial paralysis, reducing prejudices against people with a visible but often unrecognizable disability, new research from Oregon State University indicates.

There is a natural tendency to base first impressions on a person’s face, but those impressions can be inaccurate and often negative when the person has facial paralysis, said Kathleen Bogart, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University.

“We wanted to see what we could do to change that, and we found that education is a powerful tool,” said Bogart, who directs the Disability and Social Interaction Lab at OSU. “It takes away the uncertainty of how to accommodate the disability.”

The research showed that providing education about conditions that cause facial paralysis helps people correct their misperceptions. Education efforts could be particularly beneficial to health care workers, educators or other groups that are more likely to regularly encounter someone with facial paralysis, Bogart said.

For example, understanding the need to pay attention to other modes of communication could help a doctor develop a better relationship with a patient and more accurately detect when the patient is upset or in pain. It also could help educators avoid the assumption that an unresponsive face means the student is not attentive, and to understand when a child is actually engaged in a task, she said.

Bogart is an expert on ableism, or prejudice about disabilities, and her research focuses on the psychosocial implications of facial movement disorders such as facial paralysis and Parkinson’s disease, which affect more than 200,000 Americans. Her interest stems from personal experience; she has Moebius syndrome, a rare congenital neurological disorder characterized by facial paralysis and impaired lateral eye movement.

For the study, she conducted an experiment where some participants received sensitivity training in the form of educational information about facial paralysis, including the cause and nature of the disability. The information stressed the need to focus on body language and voice cues of people with facial paralysis. Other participants received no information on facial paralysis.

All 110 study participants were then asked to watch a series of video clips featuring people with facial paralysis, both mild and severe, and were asked to rate the sociability of the people in the videos. The people who read the educational information consistently rated people with facial paralysis as more sociable than those in the group that did not read the information.

“We found that awareness and education efforts are effective in reducing stigma related to rare disabilities such as facial paralysis,” Bogart said. “That could have a broad impact on the rare disease community, because many rare diseases are unrecognizable. People who encounter someone with a rare disease may not understand or know how to adapt to communicate with them.”

The findings are being published in the February issue of the journal “Patient Education and Counseling.” Co-author is Linda Tickle-Degnen of Tufts University. The research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Bogart is now developing educational materials about Moebius Syndrome targeted to educators and health care providers. She and the students in her lab also are conducting an awareness campaign in conjunction with Moebius Syndrome Awareness Day, which is held annually on Jan. 24.

The awareness campaign is a pilot project. Bogart and her students are encouraging people to take a self-portrait with a sign describing how they express themselves, then sharing the photos on social media sites using the hashtag #moebiusawareness. The Moebius Syndrome Foundation and several other college campuses are also participating in the campaign. For more information on the effort, visit: http://bit.ly/17BMR8o.

In the future, Bogart hopes to study the effectiveness of such educational efforts to determine if more information should be included, if other types of groups might be targeted or if there are other ways to enhance understanding of rare diseases such as facial paralysis.

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Kathleen Bogart, 541-737-1357, Kathleen.bogart@oregonstate.edu

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Introverts could shape extroverted co-workers’ career success, OSU study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Introverted employees are more likely to give low evaluations of job performance to extroverted co-workers, giving introverts a powerful role in workplaces that rely on peer-to-peer evaluation tools for awarding raises, bonuses or promotions, new research shows.

Introverts consistently rated extroverted co-workers as worse performers, and were less likely to give them credit for work performed or endorse them for advancement opportunities, according to two studies from researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Florida and University of Notre Dame.

“The magnitude with which introverts underrated performance of extroverts was surprising,” said Keith Leavitt, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Business and a co-author of the studies. “The results were very consistent across both studies.”

The research offers new understanding of the role personality traits play in the workplace, where these days employees can have significant influence on their colleagues’ careers, said Leavitt, an expert in organizational behavior. For example, at Google, colleagues can award bonuses to peers. And on the networking site LinkedIn, employees have the opportunity to recommend or endorse their peers.

“That gives employees a tremendous amount of power to influence their peers’ career opportunities,” Leavitt said. “It’s something individuals and employers should be aware of.”

The researchers’ paper will appear in a forthcoming issue of “Academy of Management Journal” and is available online now. The lead author is Amir Erez of the University of Florida. Other co-authors include Pauline Schilpzand of Oregon State, Andrew H. Woolum of the University of Florida, and Timothy Judge of the University of Notre Dame.

There is already considerable research that shows how an individual’s personality traits might affect job performance, but there is little research that explores how one employee’s personality traits might affect another employee in the workplace, Leavitt said.

That spurred Leavitt and his co-authors to explore how personality traits of one employee might affect that person’s co-workers. They conducted two studies to test how co-workers’ personalities interact to influence their evaluations of one another.

One study involved 178 MBA students at a large southeastern university. Each student was assigned to a four- or five-person project team for the semester and midway through the term, participants completed questionnaires about their team members, team processes and their own personalities.

The results showed that introverted team members rated the performance of other introverts higher than that of extroverts. In contrast, ratings made by extroverts were not significantly influenced by the personalities of the team members they were rating.

In the second study, 143 students in a management program participated in a brief online game, lasting about 10 minutes, with three teammates. Unbeknownst to the participants, the teammates were all electronic confederates, and one target team member’s profiles and comments during the game were manipulated at random to highlight high introversion or extraversion, while their actual performance of the task was held constant.

The participants then evaluated their team members and made recommendations about promoting or awarding bonuses to their teammates. The results showed that introverts gave lower evaluations and smaller peer bonuses to the extroverted version of the targeted team member, even though all the versions of the confederate team member performed the same. Extraverted participants were largely unaffected by the interpersonal traits of their team members and awarded evaluations and bonuses based on merit.

“We found that introverted employees are especially sensitive to their co-workers’ interpersonal traits, in particular extraversion and disagreeableness,” Leavitt said. “They make judgments and evaluate performance of others with those traits in mind.”

Leavitt suggested that extroverted employees might need to use a “dimmer switch” when interacting with introverted peers, and employers or supervisors may need to consider that the personality traits of evaluators could bring a degree of bias into evaluations, bonus awards or other personnel decisions that rely on peer-to-peer feedback. Managers also may want to reconsider forcing interaction among employees or teams, he said.

In future studies, researchers hope to further explore how personality traits impact team effectiveness, including a closer examination of the line where personality issues affect team functionality, Leavitt said. 

Introversion and extroversion are not the best overall predictors of job performance, either, he said. Conscientiousness has shown to be the best trait for indicating how an employee will actually perform.

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Keith Leavitt, 206-245-5798, keith.leavitt@bus.oregonstate.edu

OSU Center for Latino/a Studies and Engagement joins Latino consortium

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Center for Latino/a Studies and Engagement has been selected to join the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, a national consortium of university-based centers dedicated to the advancement of Latino research in the United States.

OSU’s center, also known as CL@SE, is the first Latino research center in the Pacific Northwest to join the prestigious network. The consortium includes 25 university research centers, among them the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at the City University of New York and the Chicano Studies Research Center at University of California, Los Angeles.

Membership in the consortium gives CL@SE the opportunity to partner with other network affiliates to apply for grants and work collaboratively on projects such as community-based research; exploration of the future of Latino/a studies at land-grant universities; and research on issues such as youth and community empowerment; health and wellness; education; socio-economic well-being; and historical and cultural awareness, said Ron Mize, director of the center.

Membership in the consortium, coupled with CL@SE’s community organization partnerships in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Colorado, means the needs of Latinos and Latinas in the Northwest can be heard at the national level, Mize said.

Goals of the consortium include increasing the availability of policy-relevant, Latino-focused research and expanding the pool of scholars and leaders in the field. The organization is headquartered at the University of Illinois at Chicago and also has an office in Washington, D.C.

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Ron Mize, 541-737-8803, ron.mize@oregonstate.edu

OSU to expand collaboration, outreach on UAVs, sensing technologies

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has formed a new group to organize and expand its work and collaboration with unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as well as marine and terrestrial technologies, sensing and imaging systems.

This Autonomous Systems Research Group will help facilitate work on campus, but also conduct public outreach and collaborative work with private industry and government agencies.

“Advanced aerial, terrestrial and marine systems are all being developed with highly sophisticated technologies for a wide variety of uses,” said Ronald Adams, interim vice president for research at OSU.

Those uses can include assuring safe and secure sources of food through precision agriculture; tracking and responding to changes in ocean and coastal systems; understanding the impacts of climate change and natural disasters; applications in natural resources and forest management; and deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies in industry.

“These are all areas of traditional OSU research impact and consistent with our commitments as a land, sea, space and sun grant institution,” Adams said.

“Membership in this research group will be open to all researchers interested in advancing and applying these technologies,” he said. “We hope it will help us build new connections while we pursue learning, research and problem-solving opportunities provided by these tools.”

A five-member steering committee has been named to represent the primary colleges and entities at OSU that will be involved in this initiative.

Goals of the research group include:

  • Support Oregon’s designation as an FAA-approved test site to study the academic and commercial use of UAVs in the national air space.
  • Share knowledge and collaborate with a large group of Pacific Northwest industries and government bodies.
  • Facilitate safe flight operations and respond to required legal and liability issues.
  • Help obtain the certificates of authorization required by the FAA for university flight operations.
  • Develop or certify an airborne operations group to simplify safe airborne access.

Communications programs and quarterly campus meetings will be conducted to help facilitate all these goals, officials said.

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Ann Schmierer, 541-737-1180

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Ronald Adams, 541-737-7722 or Ronald.lynn.adams@oregonstate.edu

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Corvallis Science Pub focuses on Ebola

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As deaths from the latest Ebola outbreak mount, health care providers continue to search for effective treatments. One promising approach has been developed by a Corvallis company, Sarepta Therapeutics (formerly AVI Biopharma).

Patrick Iversen, now a professor at Oregon State University, led the development of a drug that targets the genetic machinery of the Ebola virus. At the Dec. 8 Corvallis Science Pub, he will review what scientists know about Ebola and how the new drug works. He’ll also discuss how the basis for Sarepta’s approach could signal a new way to treat infectious diseases. 

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis.

Iversen received his Ph.D. in pharmacology at the University of Utah in 1984. He was a professor in the University of Nebraska College of Medicine and on the staff of the university’s medical center before moving to Corvallis to join AVI Biopharma Inc. in 1997. He is named as an inventor on 200 medical patents and is now a research professor (Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Biochemistry and Biophysics) at Oregon State.

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

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Patrick Iversen, 541-737-3249

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Self-regulation intervention boosts school readiness of at-risk children, study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An intervention that uses music and games to help preschoolers learn self-regulation skills is helping prepare at-risk children for kindergarten, a new study from Oregon State University shows.

Self-regulation skills – the skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task and persist through difficulty – are critical to a child’s success in kindergarten and beyond, said OSU’s Megan McClelland, a nationally recognized expert in child development and a co-author of the new study.

“Most children do just fine in the transition to kindergarten, but 20 to 25 percent of them experience difficulties – those difficulties have a lot to do with self-regulation,” McClelland said. “Any intervention you can develop to make that transition easier can be beneficial.”

The results of the new study are notable because positive effects of an intervention, especially one that aims to improve self-regulation and academic achievement, can be difficult for researchers to find, said McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The intervention was most effective among children who are considered at highest risk for struggling in school – those from low-income backgrounds who are learning English as a second language. In addition to a positive effect on self-regulation, the intervention had a positive effect on math achievement for English language learners.

“The math gain was huge,” McClelland said. “English language learners who were randomly assigned to the intervention showed a one-year gain in six months. This was in spite of the fact that we had no math content in these games.”

That indicates that children were more likely to integrate the self-regulation skills they’ve learned into their everyday lives, McClelland said. It also supports previous research finding strong links between self-regulation and math skills.

The study was published recently in “Early Childhood Research Quarterly.”  Lead author Sara A. Schmitt conducted the research as a doctoral student at OSU and now is an assistant professor at Purdue University. In addition to McClelland, the other authors of the study are Alan C. Acock of Oregon State and Shauna L. Tominey of Yale University.

In all, 276 children enrolled in federally funded Head Start and Oregon Prekindergarten programs for at-risk children in the Pacific Northwest participated in the study. Children ranged in age from three to five, with most about four years old. Children were randomly assigned to either a control group or the intervention program.

The intervention ran for eight weeks, with two 20- to 30-minute sessions each week. Research assistants came into classes and led children through movement and music-based games that increased in complexity over time and encouraged the children to practice self-regulation skills.

One game used in the activities was “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” A researcher acted as a stoplight and held up construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children followed color cues, such as purple is stop and orange is go, and then switched to the opposite, where purple is go and orange is stop.

Additional rules are added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go.

“It’s about helping the children practice better control,” McClelland said. “The games train them to stop, think and then act.”  

Researchers evaluated children’s self-regulation and academic achievement before and after the intervention and found that children who had received the intervention scored significantly higher on two direct measures of self-regulation. English language learners who participated in the intervention also scored significantly higher in math than their peers in the control group.

Researchers want to continue improving the games used in the intervention and expand the use of the intervention to more children, McClelland said. Because the games are somewhat simple and require few materials, training teachers is fairly easy and the program is relatively low-cost for schools, she said.

The study was supported by a grant from the Ford Family Foundation and by OSU.

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Megan McClelland, 541-737-9225, megan.mcclelland@oregonstate.edu

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Study: State, federal role in electric utilities’ labor issues should be reexamined

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Power outages have never been more costly. Electricity is critical to communication, transportation, commerce and national security systems, and wide-spread or prolonged outages have the potential to threaten public safety and cause millions, even billions, of dollars in damages.

“It doesn’t seem that dire until a storm hits, or somebody makes a mistake, and then you are risking a blackout,” said Inara Scott, an assistant professor in the College of Business at Oregon State University.

“You have to consider the magnitude of the potential harm to the public. Without power, you can’t pump gas. Cell phones may not work. Water systems are threatened. These are big problems.”

That’s why it may be time to re-examine the role of public utility commissions and the effect of the National Labor Relations Act in labor disputes regarding electric utilities, Scott suggests in a new study.

Public utility commissions have more authority than some existing court decisions suggest, but they tend to take a conservative approach and there is a strong presumption that they can’t get involved, Scott said. Modifying the NLRA to more clearly define the states’ powers might be needed to change that mindset, she said. The changes would affect both sides – labor and management – equally, she said.

“The current law does not reflect the times,” Scott said. “The courts need to look at these cases differently, because the role of electricity in our lives has changed.”

Many public utility commissions have concluded, based largely on court decisions under the NLRA, that they’re prohibited from intervening in labor disputes even when public safety is threatened, Scott said. PUCs are the state agencies that regulate public utilities.

That interpretation of the federal law does not reflect the critical role electricity plays in people’s lives and livelihoods today, said Scott, whose study of the issue was published this week in the “Energy Law Journal.”

“If workers strike or are locked out of their jobs during a labor dispute, a utility might operate just fine, or there could be a major problem,” said Scott, an attorney who spent 10 years practicing energy and regulatory law before joining the OSU faculty.

“The problems caused by an electrical outage are not easy to predict and the consequences can be severe,” said Scott, whose research focuses on the transformation of utility systems, clean energy, energy efficiency and utility regulation.

Scott began studying the National Labor Relations Act and the role of public utility commissions in labor disputes involving electric utilities after following a 2012 labor dispute involving Consolidated Edison of New York.

Con Edison management locked out more than 8,000 employees after labor negotiations broke down. Union members warned the move would leave the utility with inadequate safety monitoring, deferred maintenance and threats of unsafe conditions.

But the state’s public utility commission, the only regulatory agency with authority to oversee the safety and operation of Con Edison’s system, announced that it lacked jurisdiction to end the lockout or get involved in the negotiations.

As the lockout wore on and severe summer weather threatened the power grid, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged the New York Public Service Commission to get more involved.

The dispute was ultimately settled but the case underscored the high stakes of labor disputes involving electric utilities, as well as the potential danger to public safety and the need for clarification of the authority of state public utility commissions, Scott said.

Scott’s study was supported by OSU.

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Inara Scott, 541-737-4102, Inara.Scott@bus.oregonstate.edu