The Electrical Worker online
June 2012

Code of Excellence Wins Respect for Workers at N.J. Water Treatment Plant
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Soon after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced in his 2010 inaugural address that he was taking on corruption at the top of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, grand jury investigations, arrests, firings and indictments at one of the country's oldest wastewater treatment plants dominated news media coverage statewide.

More than 350 members of Newark Local 1158 who diligently maintain the facility that services 48 municipalities doubled down on their jobs. But, says Business Manager Joe Calabro, "Everyone working at PVSC was tainted by the scandal. All of our members do a great job working on aging equipment, facing sometimes dangerous conditions. We needed to remove the black eye that they don't deserve."

Calabro, who is also First District International Executive Council member, brainstormed with Local 1158's leaders and decided to propose that bargaining unit members and plant managers jointly develop a Code of Excellence — similar to those IBEW has sponsored and nurtured in the inside construction, telecommunications and utility branches — at Passaic Valley.

Soon, local newspapers were telling a different story about PVSC. Newly-appointed Executive Director Wayne J. Forrest told Wayne Today newspaper, "As partners, the PVSC and the IBEW are committed to working together to ensure that each IBEW member at the PVSC has the opportunity to attain the highest quality of work in the safest possible manner."

The local union brought in Mike D'Amico, Region 1 education coordinator, who met with managers and bargaining unit members. D'Amico showed a video on the IBEW's Code of Excellence in the utility industry and facilitated a discussion on how the facility's work culture could be improved.

D'Amico, who will be returning to train stewards in Code of Excellence standards, says, "We had low, middle and top management in the room. We made correlations between the work IBEW members do as plumbers, painters and electricians at PVSC and the responsibilities of our members in the utility industry. Hopefully, we opened some doors and bridged some connections."

Tony Valente, who retired three years ago after 15 years in PVSC operations and still works part-time representing members there for Local 1158, says Local 1158 members work under a good contract and have had a generally good relationship with managers. Since discussions began on the Code of Excellence, he says, "The relationship is even better now." He says he was surprised that bargaining unit members he thought would have trouble with developing the Code of Excellence thought it was a good idea.

"We were getting banged around in the news media," says Valente. "But our members bust their butts, taking in more than 200 trucks and treating 300 million gallons of wastewater a day. Most of the equipment is at least 30 years old and members are constantly assigned to breakdowns where they are faced with potential safety hazards, chemicals and ever-present noxious fumes."

In April, Calabro and Forrest hosted a meet-and-greet session with mayors and other governing officials from some of the northern New Jersey municipalities served by the PVSC.

Says Calabro, "Mayors were invited down to see where their money goes. They took a bus tour and were amazed at what our members do." Local 1158 set up a table at Forrest's invitation to introduce mayors to IBEW's Code of Excellence. Elected leaders were greeted with a large IBEW banner.

Forrest, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, former state deputy attorney general and a former county prosecutor, says, "The Code of Excellence formalizes what IBEW members have already been practicing here at the PVSC. We have a good group of people who have pride in their work. It's all positive. This agency has been through a difficult time, but a number of bargaining unit members have told me they would rather work in a professional environment where you know what the goals are and can have personal and job satisfaction."

D'Amico, who has helped implement codes of excellence in several locations, says, "This was one of the best experiences I've had. I think the code is something workers and managers at PVSC will be working with for a long time to come."


Members of Newark, N.J., Local 1158 supported the establishment of a Code of Excellence to showcase their skills at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission's facility, one of the nation's oldest and largest sewage treatment plants.