Section 1E. (a) The department is hereby authorized to promulgate rules and regulations to establish and require performance based rates for each distribution, transmission, and gas company organized and doing business in the commonwealth pursuant to the provisions of this chapter. In promulgating such performance based rate schemes, the department shall establish service quality standards each distribution, transmission, and gas company, including, but not limited to, standards for customer satisfaction service outages, distribution facility upgrades, repairs and maintenance, telephone service, billing service, and public safety provided, however, that such service quality standards shall include benchmarks for employee staff levels and employee training programs for each such distribution, transmission, and gas company.
(b) In complying with the service quality standards and employee benchmarks established pursuant to this section, a distribution, transmission, or gas company that makes a performance based rating filing after the effective date of this act shall not be allowed to engage in labor displacement or reductions below staffing levels in existence on November 1, 1997, unless such are part of a collective bargaining agreement or agreements between such company and the applicable organization or organizations representing such workers, or with the approval of the department following an evidentiary hearing at which the burden shall be upon the company to demonstrate that such staffing reductions shall not adversely disrupt service quality standards as established by the department herein. Nothing in this paragraph shall prevent reduction of forces below the November 1, 1997 level through early retirement and severances negotiated with labor organizations before said date.
(c) The department shall promulgate regulations relative to an alternative dispute resolution process for the handling of damage claims by customers in an amount under $100. The department shall establish a 60 day timeline for the resolution of all mediation claims. The department shall issue a biannual report to the joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy which shall include, but not be limited to, the following information: the nature of consumer claims, the number of consumer claims and the resolutions of consumer claims reviewed by the department during the previous 6 months. Said report shall be available for public review at the department.