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September 2019

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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New Senate Energy Bill Supports Union Jobs, Priorities

An IBEW-backed bill introduced in the U.S. Senate would ensure that the country's growing number of clean energy construction jobs will be filled by unionized electrical workers and by highly trained brothers and sisters in other union trades.

"Across North America, our members are constantly maintaining and improving an energy grid that balances baseload and renewable energy sources to achieve maximum efficiency and reliability," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "We support this and other legislative efforts to guarantee that future construction jobs in the carbon-free nuclear, wind, solar and hydroelectric sectors will be filled by educated and experienced union men and women."

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon introduced the Good Jobs for 21st Century Energy Act S. 2185 on July 18. Among the bill's provisions is language that establishes prevailing wage and project labor agreement standards for employers on clean energy generation and carbon-capture construction projects. Those employers also would be required to guarantee to fill at least 20% of their construction craft jobs with apprentices.

"As the world transitions to clean and renewable energy, America has a huge opportunity to lead that transition and to create millions of jobs in the process," Merkley said in a statement. "We need to make sure the jobs powering our economy for the next century are good-paying, family-wage jobs."

Additionally, Merkley's bill calls for properly classifying workers on such construction projects and for giving individuals with criminal histories a fair chance at getting hired.

To help give employers incentives to adopt the bill's pro-labor priorities, the bill would grant tax credits of up to 10% to companies working on qualified projects. The bill also offers those employers opportunities to apply for grants and government-backed loans.

The plan further calls for the creation of a "Clean Jobs Workforce Hub" made up of unions, employers and other interested parties, to further promote the value of quality employee training and development programs offered by the IBEW and other unions.

"This is the right bill at the right time to fight climate change and create the kind of family-sustaining jobs our country is desperate for," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "For too long, the corporate right-wing — the polluters and the union-busters — conspired together to create a false choice: a raising wages economy or a clean environment. We can and must have both."

Alongside the IBEW and the AFL-CIO, a number of other labor organizations and allies have endorsed Merkley's bill, including the United Steelworkers, LiUNA, the Utility Workers Union of America and the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters.

"The IBEW remains committed to finding a balanced and climate-sensitive approach toward securing reliable and affordable electricity generation," said Political and Legislative Affairs Director Austin Keyser. "Sen. Merkley's bill will help guarantee that future green energy construction work will provide safe, living-wage and family-supporting jobs.

"It's also important that as long as our electrical grid is reliant on fossil fuels, we're leading the way in supporting carbon-capture and carbon-reducing modifications that help to minimize emissions," Keyser added. "This bill helps do both.

Merkley's Bill, which had 13 co-sponsors as of mid-August, has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where it awaits further consideration.


A new bill in the U.S. Senate could help guarantee that future construction jobs in various carbon-free sectors will be filled by educated and experienced IBEW members, such as the men and women from Augusta, Ga., Local 1579 who are working on this Plant Vogtle nuclear facility.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user NRCgov

Capitol Hill Lineworker Events
Celebrate Recognition Resolution

On July 10, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California introduced a House of Representatives resolution to designate that date as National Lineworkers Recognition Day.

"The resolution is really a messaging piece which talks about the value, the dedication and the dignity of work," Sanchez said at a ceremony on Capitol Hill that afternoon. "The work that lineworkers do is dangerous and important work, and they are an integral part of our communities."

July 10 is significant because it's the date in 1896 that the IBEW's founder and first president, Henry Miller, died from injuries he sustained while working to restore power in a northwest Washington, D.C., neighborhood.

"Our hardworking lineworkers put their lives on the line every day to ensure our nation has the power it needs to keep moving forward," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "It's never easy, but they know that the job needs to be done. July 10 is the day to say thanks for all they do for us and our communities."

Sanchez, a former compliance officer and member of Santa Ana, Calif., Local 441, noted with pride that more than 100 of her House colleagues had quickly signed on to cosponsor the resolution, House Resolution 478. It's also backed by the IBEW, the Utility Workers Union of America and the investor-owned utilities of the Edison Electrical Institute.

During July 10 ceremony, International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper touted the union's successful partnerships with these utilities.

"We have something that ties us together, a common thread, and it's called 'safety,'" Cooper told the gathering of lawmakers, union officials and electrical industry representatives. "They take safety very seriously, and we are appreciative of our relationship with them."

Also speaking at the ceremony was Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, who worked in construction before entering politics.

"People don't understand the work that you do, the danger," McKinley said, "all the things we have to do to protect our gear, to make sure that you can be protected to come home at night."

In 2016, McKinley co-founded the bipartisan Congressional Building Trades Caucus with Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, "to teach Congress to respect the people that work out in the open, like you all do, in the worst conditions," he said.

Norcross, a member and former business agent of Folsom, N.J., Local 351, spoke about the preparations lineworkers make when weather disasters loom.

"When everybody else is evacuating, that's when you see those long lines of trucks going towards the storm," he said. "That's what keeps America rolling."

Earlier in the day, Norcross addressed a mid-morning "Touch the Truck" event on the west side of the Capitol building. The demonstration provided a chance for members of the public to meet lineworkers from Nevada's NV Energy and New Jersey's Public Service Electric and Gas, as well as to get hands-on with a bucket truck and some of the equipment lineworkers use on the job.

"What you hear and see today, 99.9% of America has no idea that it goes on," Norcross said. "Nothing goes to describe what it's like living in the cab of that truck for a week, when the power's out and you're trying to help those men and women whose homes and businesses depend on it."

Norcross asked PSE&G troubleshooter Mike Butler, a member of Cranbury, N.J., Local 94, to describe some of what his job entails.

"I'm on the emergency position — almost like a first-responder — for a multitude of problems, whether it's part-power, no-power, wires down, public safety, broken poles, entrapments, things like that, making the area safe before the fire and EMS can get in," said Butler. After serving in the Army, Butler became a journeyman lineman with Local 94, working in PSE&G's line department for nearly 10 years before becoming a troubleshooter. "We're usually the only contact people have with the power company," he said.

There have been a number of attempts in Congress over the last several years to set aside a day for lineworker appreciation, but the effort to set aside July 10 is the only one backed by the IBEW.

"Electrical lineworkers build and maintain the framework for bringing power to hundreds of millions of customers across North America," said Utility Department Director Donnie Colston. "Their skill and their sacrifice get overlooked too often."

In California, the leaders of Diamond Bar Local 47 and Vacaville Local 1245 successfully lobbied in 2014 to have the Golden State officially recognize the date of Miller's death as Lineman Appreciation Day.

Many other utilities this year participated in Lineworker Recognition Day across the U.S. as well as in Canada, where efforts to have the July 10 date similarly commemorated continue to have the support of the IBEW's First District members, the Canadian Electricity Association and the Canadian Labour Congress.


Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, left, a member of Folsom, N.J., Local 351, speaks with Cranbury, N.J., Local 94 member Mike Butler, a troubleshooter with Public Service Energy and Gas during a National Lineworkers Recognition Day event near the U.S. Capitol on July 10.

Washington, Tennessee Harden Penalties for
Assaults on Utility Workers

Rick Luiten didn't have to rely on abstract statistics or second-hand anecdotes when he testified in favor of Washington state's new law imposing tougher penalties on people who assault utility workers.

The journeyman lineman and Seattle Local 77 executive board member described escaping in his truck after a man ordered his dog to attack, and more recently being confronted by a man with a gun when he and his crew had to cross private property to replace two power poles.

"He was very agitated and threatening with me as I explained what we were doing," Luiten told the Washington House Committee on Public Safety earlier this year. "Eventually I was able to calm him down, but I was very concerned for the safety of my crew."

Other IBEW members also spoke, urging lawmakers to add utility workers to the state's "aggravating circumstance" law, which increases penalties for assaulting police officers and other public servants.

Save for a single "no" vote in the Senate, the Legislature passed the bill unanimously. Local 77 political director Sean Bagsby credits the relationships the IBEW and its utility partners built, winning support from 100 percent of the Republicans in the Statehouse and all but one Democrat.

A similar law now extends first-responder protections to utility workers in Tennessee, raising maximum fines for assault to $15,000, six times the previous cap of $2,500.

"The way it's worded, it covers any employee," in a situation that escalates to assault, said Quentin Tanner, assistant business manager at Nashville Local 429. "It could be the customer service person at the front desk and someone is mad about a bill."

Local 429 Business Manager Randy Clark noted past incidents in Tennessee that echo what Luiten experienced: a customer siccing pit bulls on a utility crew, a man putting a shotgun to a meter reader's head.

States with comparable laws on the books include New York, Ohio, Alabama and Missouri. In Tennessee and Washington, IBEW activists were determined to succeed in 2019 after earlier attempts fell short.

"The very nature of our industry is dangerous, even before you introduce additional hazards such as weather, terrain, uncontrolled pets and potentially angry and violent persons," Bagsby testified in Washington.

"This legislation is important not only to protect the brave people who bring and maintain the power to the people," he said. "It is also important to help maintain the grid reliability and services provided for the various utilities to their customers, communities and service territory."

More quietly, but no less effectively, Local 429 and Tenth District staff were making the same kind of arguments across the country.

In partnership with the Tennessee Electrical Cooperative Association and utility plant managers, they'd pushed for a bill in 2018. While one Republican senator sponsored the legislation, another shut it down. Tanner said it had more to do with the bill's wording than its principles.

This year, supporters kept it simple, seeking to insert "any identifiable employee of a utility or contractor of a utility" into existing law governing aggravated assault.

When it came to the sales pitch, however, IBEW leaders made a strategic decision to stay on the sidelines. They wanted to ensure that anti-union politicians in deep-red Tennessee wouldn't let their views interfere with badly needed protections.

Instead, they rallied union allies in police and fire departments to lobby and testify on their behalf, helping lawmakers understand that utility workers face many of the same dangers as first responders.

The bill passed 98-0 in the House and 27-5 in the Senate.

"I was tickled to death, especially after the previous year," Clark said. "I give a lot of credit to Quentin and our other lobbyists, and the firefighters and police officers who had our backs."

In Washington, IBEW representatives were on hand April 30 as Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law.

"Utility workers do their jobs under extraordinarily dangerous conditions and hellacious hours," Inslee said. "This measure will help keep our utility workers safe, especially when they must access private property to make repairs."

Assault laws enacted in other states in recent years are having an effect. In May, a woman in upstate New York was sentenced to three years in prison for attacking a National Grid worker in 2018.

The victim, a 25-year-old woman sent to turn off the customer's power, was knocked to the ground and suffered facial injuries. According to news coverage, the assault was elevated to a felony from a misdemeanor because of the 2016 law.

Local 77's success with the assault bill follows a hard-fought victory last year to add utility workers to Washington's "move-over" law, which requires motorists to change lanes or slow down on single-lane roads when first responders and other emergency workers are on scene.

A move-over law in Tennessee has protected utility crews since 2011. At least 30 states have similar laws, most passing with bipartisan support.

In Washington, however, Senate GOP leaders blocked Local 77's efforts for two legislative sessions. The move-over bill didn't pass until a special election in 2017 flipped control of the chamber to Democrats.

"Our IBEW brothers and sisters from Washington to Tennessee and all over the country have been working extremely hard in recent elections to elect candidates who put a priority not only on our rights at work, but also our safety at work," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.

"Ultimately, the right to go home safe and healthy at the end of the day is the most valuable right of all," he said. "We have to continue to fight for candidates who care about that as much as we do."


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill championed by Seattle Local 77 that increases penalties for assaults on utility workers. Starting second from left, pictured with utility partners and lawmakers who sponsored the bill, are Local 77 leaders and activists Rick Luiten; Damian Hernandez; Luiten's son, Robert; Sean Bagsby; new Business Manager Rex Habner; President Rick Johnson; and Karl Freudenstein.