The Electrical Worker online
August 2018

IBEW, Milwaukee Donate $40,000 in
Tools to Puerto Rican Lineworkers
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When Hurricane Maria made landfall in September, Puerto Rico's electrical infrastructure was essentially washed away. Only 5 percent of the island's power system survived the devastation.

PREPA, the perpetually-underfunded state-run electrical company, had little in the way of replacement supplies, and power had still not been completely restored when hurricane season returned at the start of June.

When IBEW members from Orlando, Fla., Local 222 raced to the island to assist in the recovery, they learned that, in addition to the heartbreaking stories of lost homes and loved ones, many of Puerto Rico's lineworkers had also lost their personal tools. The men and women tasked with rebuilding the island's shattered electrical grid were piecing things back together without the tools of the trade.

"They were working with hand tools like we had back in the late '50s and early '60s," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "Our members worked with them and saw what bad conditions they had and decided to do something about it."

They began, Stephenson said, collecting money out of their own pockets and then reached out to Local 222 Business Manager Bill Hitt to start collecting at home.

The group raised more than $20,000.

"We could see these guys are out there doing the best they could with little or nothing. They'd actually built lines with stuff they found lying on the ground," Hitt said. "We wanted to make sure they understand that we are brothers. We do the same work they do."

Fifth District International Vice President Joe Davis reached out to Milwaukee Tool, a close partner to the Fifth District that matched donations in the past, including a generous donation to Haitian lineworkers a year ago. Milwaukee doubled the value of the donation.

"When they came to us with this opportunity, we felt it was very important for us to show support for the people of Puerto Rico and what the IBEW is doing down here," said Scott Teson, vice president of skilled trades for Milwaukee Tool at the April 29 event in San Juan, which he attended with Stephenson, Davis, Hitt and International Executive Council member Bill Riley.

Tool kits worth nearly $3,000 each were donated to more than 20 PREPA workers, Hitt said.

"When you have had so much taken away from you, to have just a little bit given back is huge," Hitt said.

PREPA worker Emanuel Otero was chosen to speak at the event.

"We are trying to make our best work to turn on the power for the community. We appreciate the linemen workers who came from Florida. Without that help, we would have had a lot more people without power," he said. "We don't have enough tools to work on the live lines, or the underground power lines, so of course the tools will help."

The IBEW also donated 88,000 pounds of clean water to Catholic Charities to distribute to the parts of the island that still have not had regular service restored.

"The IBEW is not a business. It is a family, and this is what families. We help each other. The looks on their faces were worth their weight in gold," Riley said. "Puerto Rico has a long way to go, and the IBEW will be here to support them."

In sadder news from Puerto Rico, the officers regret to report the death of former Syracuse, N.Y., Local 97 president Thomas J. Primero. Even though he was retired, when the call went up for volunteers to reconnect the power after Hurricane Maria, Primero stepped up. For three months, the 74-year-old had been doing what he loved best, his family said: helping people. He suffered a fatal heart attack March 18. In lieu of flowers, his family requested donations be sent to the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands, N.Y.



IBEW and Milwaukee Tool representatives presented the $40,000 donation to the Puerto Rican linemen in San Juan in April.