Editor’s note: This article is from “A Year Like No Other,” a package of stories published in the March 2021 Electrical Worker about IBEW members handling the pandemic’s challenges on the job.

Months before workers were called on to sequester at the Priest Rapids Dam, Seattle Local 77 bargained the terms of wages and working conditions — just in case.

We were ahead of the game," said Business Representative Brian Gray, whose central Washington territory includes Priest Rapids and a second Columbia River dam operated by the Grant County PUD.

Some of the members of Seattle-based Local 77 who sequestered at the Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River in late 2020 to protect their worksite from a COVID-19 outbreak.

But there was still a learning curve last October, the day an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Supervisors scrambled to call in volunteers and run out for snacks, cots and sleeping bags.

Management ironed out the kinks as the first team of IBEW electricians, mechanics and operators hunkered down for eight days and nights, followed by a three-day relief crew.

When the virus forced another 24/7 stay in December, it was shop steward Mike Bradshaw's turn. Preparations included a clean shave, as he and his bearded brothers traded everyday masks for closer-fitting N95s.

A bonus was that they ate like kings, enjoying three hot meals a day from a popular barbecue joint. "I think most of us gained weight," Bradshaw said with a chuckle.

Sequestration came later to Priest Rapids than many other utilities. Early on, grid operators from New York to California clustered for shifts as long as four weeks.

At some U.S. nuclear plants, reactor operators lived onsite in RVs. Mark MacNichol, international representative in the Utility Department, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission worked with the industry and unions on temporary procedural changes — cooperation that was deeply appreciated.

At Priest Rapids, gratitude is mutual.

"I can't say enough positive things about the union's willingness to engage on what is a life-essential service mission," said Kevin Nordt, PUD general manager and CEO. "We can't keep our customers' lights on without our workers."