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PG&E workers irked by safety chief's promotion

Employees are pushing back on the promotion of PG&E safety chief Sumeet Singh, just days after the CEO warned workplace safety was getting "dramatically worse."
Credit: AP / Jeff Chiu
Sumeet Singh, Vice President, Asset & Risk Management, Community Wildfire Safety Program for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), speaks at a California Public Utilities Commission meeting in San Francisco, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Editor's Note: This version corrects an earlier one stating PG&E did not respond to ABC10's request for comment.

On Monday, Feb. 6, CEO Patti Poppe sent a somber email to the entire workforce of PG&E: Only one month into 2023, two workers had already died on the job.

In the email obtained by ABC10 from a source inside the company, Poppe called a “safety stand down” the next morning along with a mandatory company-wide meeting about “what’s behind our recent [safety] performance and what we need to do to reverse it.”

The CEO delivered a blunt bottom line: “So far, our safety performance is dramatically worse than last year.”

Just four days after this dire warning about safety performance, Poppe made another announcement: PG&E’s top executive for safety was promoted to her second-in-command.

“It’s a slap in the face to us employees that are told by management that they care about safety, and safety is the number one priority,” said one PG&E worker who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their livelihood. “It's the antithesis of a safety culture to give that promotion after two coworkers have lost their lives so recently.”

PG&E’s board promoted Chief Safety Officer Sumeet Singh to Chief Operating Officer. On March 1, he’s set to replace Adam Wright, who departed after two years at PG&E.

A PG&E spokesperson responded to ABC10's request for comment saying, in part: "Nothing is more important to us at PG&E than safety, and living up to our Stand that everyone and everything is always safe."  The full response is at the end of this article.

ABC10 spoke with multiple PG&E insiders, experts, and investigators for this story.

They gave varied impressions of Singh’s fitness for the leadership position, but generally agreed his appointment adds to a perception of “tone-deaf” leadership at PG&E.

RELATED: PG&E execs cut ‘tone-deaf’ music video ahead of manslaughter plea

A second veteran PG&E employee who requested anonymity called Singh’s promotion an example of “f--- up and move up,” a bureaucratic phenomenon they described as “prevalent at PG&E.”


The first employee came forward after PG&E and Poppe were widely criticized for producing a dancing, lip-syncing Valentine’s Day video on the eve of a court date where the company was to enter a plea on felony manslaughter charges.

Poppe sent a representative in her place last Wednesday when PG&E pleaded “not guilty” to 11 alleged crimes for starting the 2020 Zogg Fire.

Singh, whose on-and-off tenure at PG&E dates back to 2009, also appears in the music video, which is set to a cover of “Love Will Keep Us Together” by easy listening duo Captain and Tennille.

He dances with colleagues wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the letters “LWL,” presumably short for Poppe’s personal slogan “leading with love,” which she includes as part of her email signature.

“Dancing like idiots while important work needs to get done is not a good use of time,” the first employee said. “[Poppe’s] style is very insensitive to people that had their lives torn apart because of the company, and eye-rolling to people that just want to do their jobs and take pride in their work.”

The employee believes it’s possible that Poppe “doesn't fully understand the job she has” or how her tone is received in California, but he sees fewer potential excuses for the Chief Safety Officer’s promotion.

“Sumeet [Singh] has been around far too long to continue to be allowed to fail upwards without the board being, at least, questioned for its choice for the new COO,” the employee added.


Singh is well known to investigators who’ve probed PG&E’s many deadly and destructive disasters since 2010.

Prosecutors never accused Singh of any personal wrongdoing, but they saw his name and email pop up on records from so many different catastrophes it earned him a nickname among investigators: the “Forrest Gump” of PG&E disasters.

Singh has worked on operations at PG&E since 2009, in both the gas and electric businesses. His communications were obtained by investigators of the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion, the 2015 Butte Fire, the 2017 wine country fires, and the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise.

PG&E Corporation was convicted of six felonies in San Bruno and 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter in the Camp Fire, along with a reckless arson felony for starting the fire through criminally negligent maintenance practices.

Through all that, some PG&E employees argued to investigators Singh is “one of the very few good ones at the top of the food chain” who wanted to do the right thing.

One employee told ABC10 they believe Singh “wants to do the right thing” but has been “handcuffed” by PG&E’s top leaders.

Other sources took a less charitable view.

“He’s just an apologist for the system,” said an attorney involved in multiple PG&E legal and regulatory cases, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. “[Singh] is the master of saying ‘we’ve got it covered’ and then doing nothing.”


Poppe’s note on Singh’s appointment stressed he “will continue to emphasize safety and risk as the head of operations.”

It’s clear a segment of PG&E’s line-level employees remain unconvinced this is good news.

“We're tired of [PG&E] coworkers being hurt and killed on the job, only to see management get bigger paychecks,” one employee commented to ABC10. 

Singh's most recently-disclosed annual compensation was set at $1.4 million, according to a 2020 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The pay for his promotion has not yet been announced.

The two deaths this year both involved vehicles. A contractor from Elk Grove died in a Mendocino County crash in early January. A PG&E employee from Redding died in late January when he was reportedly crushed by his work truck as he attempted to repair it.

“Safety is a joke at PG&E. No one’s holding them accountable,” said Kim Wink, whose husband Steve Wink died on the job at PG&E in 2020 after being sent alone into the LNU wildfire complex.

An ABC10 investigation uncovered photo evidence showing damage to PG&E’s work truck, which was not considered by Solano County authorities when determining his cause of death.

PG&E was allowed to remove the physical evidence from Wink’s death scene. Kim says the company failed to provide her with a basic explanation of how he died.

In much the same way that PG&E’s practice of cutting safety expenses resulted in criminal convictions for sparking disasters, she believes PG&E is also putting profits over the safety of its workforce.

“I feel like we’re still in the 1700s. These guys are being killed on the job and nobody cares,” Kim Wink said. “[PG&E has] been hiding things for a very long time. I wish the public would challenge them more on being truthful.”

PG&E's full response to ABC10's request for comment:

"Nothing is more important to us at PG&E than safety, and living up to our Stand that everyone and everything is always safe. The internal note we sent, and the coworker and contractor discussion we had in our Safety Standdown, was in reference to personnel safety. We had this discussion in light of an increase in motor vehicle incidents, including two tragic incidents, one involving our coworker, and the other involving a contractor. For this reason, we took immediate action to convene an honest and candid discussion on personnel safety performance, in order to bring light to the issue and prevent future personnel safety incidents."

This article is part of ABC10’s FIRE - POWER - MONEY reporting project, which examines the connection between wildfires, PG&E and its influence on California politics. If you have a tip, email reporter Brandon Rittiman at brittiman@abc10.com

MORE FIRE-POWER-MONEY: PG&E execs cut ‘tone-deaf’ music video ahead of manslaughter plea.

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