Missouri motorists are now required to “move over” when driving past utility vehicles, thanks to a lobbying effort that included IBEW members.  

Drivers in the Show Me state will now have to treat utility workers the same as police and firefighters, says a new law. 

The so-called “move over” law adds utility vehicles to a list of other emergency carriers, like ambulances and repair trucks. When drivers approach, they will be required to vacate the lane closest to the vehicle, and if that’s not possible, slow down to a safer speed. Failure to do so will be considered a misdemeanor.

“It’s a common-sense measure,” said St. Louis Local 2 Business Manager David Heidbreder. “We want our brothers and sisters to come home safe every night, and this is a simple way to ensure that.”

All 50 states, and every Canadian province, have such laws, designed to protect emergency personnel from errant motorists. Only a few states extend this protection to utility workers though. Missouri joins Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee, North Carolina and Indiana in including these workers under the “move over” umbrella.

The law, which went into effect Aug. 28, will affect approximately 7,000 members, said Heidbreder, who also chairs the Missouri State Utility Workers Conference.

The IBEW was approached by water company Missouri American Water, which employs IBEW members, and the Utility Workers of America to support their legislative effort, said Heidbreder. Every local in the state with utility workers joined in. The State Conference of Electrical Workers, comprised of Missouri’s IBEW locals, provided testimony.   

The lobbying began in early 2016, said Heidbreder, but it wasn’t until this year that the legislation got any real momentum. In February, the bill passed out of the state House. By the end of the session, in May, the Senate version passed as well and was signed into law by Gov. Eric Greitens on June 29.

“With Missouri’s legislature being so hostile to unions, it really helped to have the utility companies on board and pushing for this because it didn’t look like a labor issue,” Heidbreder said.

The climate in Missouri has been anything but kind to union members lately, with battles on a number of fronts including right-to-work and attacks on the prevailing wage and project labor agreements.

Most recently, IBEW members and fellow labor activists collected more than 300,000 signatures to force a statewide referendum on the state’s new right-to-work law. Because of their efforts, the issue will be put before voters in 2018 and the law cannot be enforced.

“Considering the animosity we usually face in Jefferson City [Missouri’s capital], this was an easy ask,” said Rudy Chavez, Missouri state political director.