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May 2024

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After IBEW Day of Action, California Establishes
Utility Workers Appreciation Day

Utility locals in California supercharged a Day of Action at the state Capitol in March, giving lawmakers and the public a look at the skills, equipment and demands of their essential, high-risk jobs.

The next day, the Assembly voted to establish an annual Utility Workers Appreciation Day, culminating a long-term effort for that recognition.

"We work in an incredibly dangerous industry, and we want to make people aware of that and all that our members do," Vacaville Local 1245 Business Manager Bob Dean said. "Our members play a pivotal role in our state's story of economic success — but more often than not, their hard work goes unseen."

Dean noted that a large number of Local 1245 members were considered essential when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They're also first responders whose work is often necessary for other first responders to do theirs.

"Oftentimes, we're at the scenes of accidents before the police and fire departments are," said Diamond Bar Local 47 Business Manager Colin Lavin, whose members also participated in the Day of Action on March 13. "Most of the time, our members are the ones calling the emergency services, in addition to making the area safe for the police and firefighters to conduct their business."

More than a dozen Local 47 members joined hundreds of other IBEW members who showcased their skills to state legislators, staffers, utility executives and members of the public.

"I know what it's like to work, day in and day out, through storms … having those long periods of time when you don't get to go home, and you're working in the worst weather, and all kinds of difficult terrain," said IBEW Ninth District International Vice President Dave Reaves, who previously worked as a journeyman lineman in Alaska, told the crowd at the rally. "You all know your utility systems better than anybody; you know how to safely and efficiently restore power after any climate or emergency event. It takes years of specialized training to work in our utility classifications. … You are truly the power and gas professionals in this trade."

The first-of-its-kind event was part of a larger push spearheaded by Local 1245 to educate the public about the highly skilled, essential and often dangerous work done by utility workers across the state.

"At best, utility workers are overlooked and taken for granted. At worst, they are harassed and even attacked just for doing their jobs," Dean said. "It's time for our state to acknowledge, lift up and recognize the contributions and sacrifices that our members make each and every day."

The event was hosted by the Coalition of California Utility Employees, which comprises all the IBEW utility locals in the Golden State, including Los Angeles Local 18 and San Diego Local 465. During the day, legislators and members of the public were treated to demonstrations of some of the equipment used by utility workers, like switchgears, and some got to ride in bucket trucks.

"They loved it. It was a really big hit all around," said Dean, who also said the Day of Action is planned to be an annual event. "It's not something most people get to see."

Dean and Lavin said it's important for the public, and decision-makers in Sacramento, to know just how much time and dedication goes into linework, from the four to five years of an apprenticeship, followed by more years honing their craft in all kinds of weather and under just about any type of circumstance.

"We're here to show that this isn't just your basic kind of job that any sort of person can walk up and do," said Local 1245 member Justin Henson, who offered close-up demonstrations of the work he does as a PG&E distribution line technician. "It demands and requires a high-intensity level of training, through apprenticeship programs as well as the constant on the-job training to stay up on the growing technology of today."

The Day of Action was followed the next day by a unanimous vote of the Assembly to designate March 14 as Utility Workers Appreciation Day. The Local 1245 members in attendance were given a standing ovation for their hard work, and Dean was honored on the floor for his commitment and advocacy on behalf of the state's utility workers.

"We're here to say thank you. Thank you for working around the clock and in hazardous conditions to ensure that we all have access to safe and reliable energy. Thank you for this steadfast commitment that you demonstrate in your work. Thank you for risking your lives and for leaving your families sometimes for days or weeks at a time to help restore power to your neighbors," Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, who introduced the resolution, said at the Day of Action. "We cannot keep California working without you. You have one of the toughest jobs out there, and you are deserving of our recognition and our appreciation today, tomorrow, and each and every day."

As California and the rest of the country move toward a greener and more electrified future, the work of IBEW utility workers will only become more vital. As such, it's important for the public to recognize the highly trained and dedicated workers who maintain the electrical grid.

"It's important to have a day of appreciation considering everything that our members do," Lavin said. "The behind-the-scenes maintenance and construction of our electrical systems that the utilities maintain is a 24-hour business. Our members sacrifice their lives, sometimes time with their families, missing birthdays and holidays, so that we can all enjoy and rely on electricity."

Added Dean: "These workers aren't just essential. They're exceptional. This work is incredibly demanding and requires an exceptional level of skill, training, dedication and attention to detail. … We will continue to work on behalf of our members to ensure they get the respect and recognition they deserve."


Credit: John Storey for Local 1245


California utility locals held a Day of Action at the state Capitol in March, giving lawmakers and the public a look at the skills, equipment and demands of their essential, high-risk jobs. The following day, Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 members attended an Assembly vote that established March 14 as an annual Utility Workers Appreciation Day.

New England Broadcast Local Enforces Wage Law for R.I. Members

Boston Local 1228 members employed by Rhode Island broadcast outlets are receiving back pay after the local became aware of a state law regarding overtime wages.

The law requires workers to receive overtime pay when they work on Sundays and state holidays. Local 1228 is fighting to secure pay for all its Rhode Island bargaining units that have yet to receive it.

Andy Gannon, a shop steward and a technician for Rhode Island PBS, brought it to the attention of Business Manager Fletcher Fischer during contract negotiations with the employer. Local 1228 brought it to the attention of station management, which agreed to comply with the law. It has been paying back wages covering the last three years to all current and former employees affected by the law.

Some industries are exempt from the statute. Broadcasting is not one of them.

"The law is the law," said Fischer, who has been business manager and financial secretary since 2011.

"This is a clear example of a vigilant shop steward," Fischer said. "His diligence has brought wage corrections for every broadcast station in Rhode Island, whether they are union or nonunion."

The battle to ensure that the broadcast technicians were paid according to the law got significant media attention in New England. The Boston Globe reported on it, and a nonunion television station that reported on the "Sunday law" was forced to provide back pay to its workers.

Fischer said management at WJAR, an NBC affiliate in Providence where Local 1228 provides representation, was reluctant to provide back pay and looked for loopholes in the law. It ultimately payed up after the local threatened legal action.

Local 1228 represents about 600 broadcast technicians and camera operators at television stations and broadcast sports and entertainment crewing companies throughout New England.

Fischer said the back pay has come at a crucial time for many members. Much like newspapers, local broadcast outlets have been roiled by layoffs and budget cuts in recent years, forcing many experienced professionals from the industry. Wages have been growing at a lower rate than when local television stations were a virtual cash cow.

"A lot of turnover came during the pandemic," Fischer said. "A lot of people decided broadcast station work was not for them. There's a high level of stress, and many didn't think it was worth it."


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Boston Local 1228 members, seen here on the job as technicians, top, and camera operators, are receiving back pay for working Sundays and holidays that had been withheld.