Running a little behind with your electricity bill? Prefer to do business face-to-face rather than waiting on hold with an operator? Never had a checking account to pay your bills by mail?
If using Con Edison’s downtown Jamaica customer service center has been your answer to those questions up until now, you may have to look for new solutions soon.
Company sources said this week that the utility giant is planning to relocate its customer service center at 92-15 Union Hall Street in the next two months.
But they add that the new office, at 89-67 162nd Street—which will be shared with KeySpan Energy—will have only three staffers, down from 14 at the current location.
Besides not being able to accommodate the daily traffic flow of 400-500 customers a day that the old location handles, none of the three staffers will process payments, according to the sources.
That would effectively shut down Con Edison’s only remaining bill payment center in Queens and force walk-in customers to pay their bills at independent check-cashing offices.
Joy Faber, a Con Edison spokeswoman, confirmed that the utility was planning to move, but because negotiations are ongoing, she wouldn’t say when or where the Jamaica office will move.
However, documents obtained from the Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates utilities, indicate that Con Edison is indeed negotiating with KeySpan’s Jamaica office and expects to move in December or January.
“Some customer service representatives at the Union Hall center will move with the center and continue to handle customers’ concerns,” she said.
Although Con Edison has negotiated with Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers Of America to ensure that all employees can find work within the utility company, Faber acknowledged that there will no cashiers to accept payments at the new location.
“We are still in negotiations right now for some services,” she said. “Keep in mind that we have 3 million customers and this will affect only a small percentage of them.”
With the closure of the bill payment service at the new Jamaica office, customers can still make payments at no charge through authorized payment centers, which are normally check-cashing establishments and banks.
There are 34 such third-party payment centers in Queens, although only 14 of them can accept payments for accounts that are about to be, or have already been, disconnected.
“It’s important that people don’t think they are losing something,” Faber said, noting that bills can be paid over the Internet, through the mail or at the authorized centers. “We are taking nothing away. There are more options than ever to pay bills.”
But that’s not how most customers using Con Edison’s Jamaica office feel.
Jean Bryant, of Richmond Hill, said that she pays her bill at the office nearly every month and that she hopes it will not close.
“This is fine for me the way it is right now. It’s convenient, it’s easy. Not everyone can get their bill in the mail in time to meet the due date.”
Other customers said that they pay their bills at the Jamaica center because they have spent more than 45 minutes on hold when trying to clear up problems by telephone.
“I only come here once in a while but I want it to stay,” said one elderly woman who declined to give her name. “I don’t want to go to a check-cashing place. I don’t feel safe in them.”
Most employees at the center declined to speak on the record about its imminent relocation, but said that they felt that it was a bad move for customers.
Stephen Dagis, a customer service representative and union steward for the center, said that the relocation was the utility’s latest move toward cost savings.
“You have to wonder how much they are really going to save. We are all going to keep our jobs and they might save a little money on rent, but does that make it enough to inconvenience the customers? I don’t know,” Dagis said.
And according to Tracy Shelton, of the consumer advocacy-oriented New York Public Interest Research Group, the people who stand to lose the most are the poor and senior citizens.
“The people who use these centers are not people with big checking accounts. Some of them might not have checking accounts at all,” she said.
“And there might be agreements now to keep the authorized payments center free, but that might change in the future.”
Con Edison operated 18 customer services centers throughout the metropolitan New York area as recently as five years ago, but there are only four now.
xhe Jamaica location was slated for closure two years ago, but was given a reprieve after elected officials intervened.
The remaining centers are located in lower-income areas, including Flatbush, Harlem and the North Bronx.
According to Faber, Con Edison is also reexamining the fate of those offices.