As you read this, the final preparations are underway for our historic 30th Constitutional Convention. Over four days in July, elected Convention Delegates will meet, discuss, and vote on the direction our union will take for the next four years. One thing is certain, as we enter our eighth decade, the UWUA is on the right track, defending the gains our members have made, seeking further improvements, and bringing the benefits of union membership to even more utility workers.
We are geared up and hitting on all cylinders to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing industries to provide the necessities of life — light, heat, power, and water — to our great nation. Though no one can accurately predict what the future of utilities will be, through the hard work of our members, their locals, and the National Union, we are building the foundation for future utility workers to succeed.
While not the largest union, our impact cannot be underestimated. We provide vital services that are fundamental to human life and are committed to continuing to be the best trained, highest skilled, safest and most productive workers in the world. As a result, when we speak, policymakers, regulators and ratepayers listen.
Democracy in action Democracy is one of the core values of the UWUA. Through democratic governance and collective action we are strengthening our union and our country. Our goal is to improve the lives of our members and the communities we serve. Elected delegates will have a say in decisions that affect their lives, the lives of the union members they represent, and their larger communities.
The importance of the union’s democratic convention process is even greater than its impact on our members and their communities. It is also what has made America great. Unfortunately, our democracy is under attack by powerful and well-funded groups seeking to roll back the gains made by generations of working people, individuals who worked democratically through their unions to improve the lives of Americans.
We cannot underestimate the importance of exercising our democratic rights as union members. Union democracy is so critical to our whole society that unions are the only type of non-governmental organization for which Congress has found it essential to legislate democratic rights. We trace our history as an organized group of utility workers to the time of the 1934 Wagner Act, when Congress determined that the public interest required the right of workers to select unions of their own choosing for collective bargaining. At that time, the Brotherhood of Utility Employees of America was created to organize the nation’s growing number of utility workers. Then, following the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), in 1938, the Utility Workers Organizing Committee was formed. The UWUA grew out of the UWOC in 1945.
The founders of our union built a powerful, democratic organization. As we gather for our 30th Constitutional Convention, let’s celebrate our history and chart a path to the future. Our theme for this year’s historic convention provides the framework for the work ahead. We will come together to Reclaim, Retrain, Repower, Repair America!
Look at what is happening with the assault on labor unions in our country today. Piece-by-piece, the protections of fair treatment, good wages, and earn- ing a decent living are being dismantled. Slashing and cutting everything that protects people while giving corporate America a free hand is not sustainable. This cannot continue. The best way to combat poverty and improve living standards is through collective bargaining. Labor unions built the middle class. By destroying the labor movement, our nation’s ability to lift people out of poverty and into the middle class will also be destroyed.
Labor rights and civil rights are really one and the same. We must get people to understand that the attack on labor is an attack on our whole society. It is an attack on our way of life. That’s why we have to Reclaim America. When Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed Right-to- Work (for less) into Michigan, we decided, “Enough is enough” and launched the Member-to-Member program, an innovative new initiative to engage members and encourage them to participate in union activities.
Our key to success will be our ability to organize, inform, motivate, and mobilize our members. We will need an historic level of member activism for our union to grow, and win the justice that we strive for. Having a strong and effective Member- to-Member program in each local union will be key to our future success.
We all know that it takes collective effort to get anything done. At the Convention, we will be focusing that collective effort.
Training current members and new members to meet the challenges of the future is at the forefront of our work at the National Union. And we have had many successes to build on. When it comes to downed wires or malfunctioning substations, underground cables, or if it’s a gas line leak, or a water main break, our members have the skills, the education, and the necessary training to safely fix it in a timely fashion. Our members also make sure their repairs are enduring, not having to be reworked. This is the wise way to go. And, we have a training model that works.
We proved this after reaching an agreement with Consumers Energy (CE) in Michigan to have our Power for America (P4A) Training Trust train entry-level employees. P4A purchased a warehouse in Potterville, Michigan and re-constructed it into classrooms and work labs to be utilized for the training of CE workers and members of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council. The building was completed and opened one year ago, and there are already plans to expand it to include welding training for gas and electric industries.
In another major training success, the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program (UMAP) was started by Chicago Local 18007 and its Business Manager Rick Passerelli. UMAP is an educational program featuring general education and basic courses on the safe construction and operation of the natural gas distribution systems. Peoples Gas has instituted a process where students, upon completion of the classroom program enter into a paid internship at the company for one month of actual on-the-job experience. UMAP will be extended for another five years and will train another 250 veterans in this tremendous program.
Our goal is to replicate these training successes with as many government agencies and employers as possible. We’ll be focusing on how best to do that at the Convention.
Our tens of thousands of members working at 74 electric utilities across the country are well informed about the precarious state of our electric generation and distribution system. Natural and man-made disasters over the last several years have exposed the system’s weaknesses to the general public.
This, combined with the desire to create, and the technology to support, a clean energy economy, have spurred state and federal governments to take action to modernize the energy infrastructure.
Our unique understanding of the industry, and the high stakes our members have in decisions affecting it, have propelled the UWUA to take every opportunity to weigh in with policy recommendations, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP).
I was the first person to testify at the very first public hearing on the CPP last July. I called for policies that support the modernization of our existing power generation and transmission infrastructure, including the use of responsible coal-fired generation, coupled with concrete, long-term support for workers and communities who may become stranded in the process.
We have made it clear to the Obama administration, and all the different agencies involved, that any regulatory policy that transfers the full cost of compliance onto stranded workers and communities is bad policy.
The UWUA has submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is playing an active role in shaping what is going on at the state level. We are raising concerns about the impact of the proposed EPA regulations on electric reliability, the wholesale electricity markets and our nation’s energy infrastructure.
We believe we can Repower America and reduce carbon emissions without compromising grid reliability or the economic security of impacted workers and their communities.
Seems like every day we learn about some new man-made or natural disaster that could be mitigated with investment in our human and physical infrastructure. The Society of Civil Engineers has given our electric, gas, and water infrastructure a D+ grade. Our communities deserve better than that.
Utility Workers have taken on the challenge to Repair America. Repairing our electrical grid and our aging gas and water lines will protect the public, improve the environment, and result in good paying, family supporting jobs. There is no other higher priority for the country right now.
And, we are making gains. In California, our pipeline safety legislation is now the law and we are working to make sure the jobs created to repair pipelines are good, union jobs. The water crisis there will also mean more jobs for utility workers.
In Michigan and Illinois, state-mandated gas pipeline replacement is also resulting in more UWUA members, safer communities, and a better economy.
Nationally, we are working with the AFL-CIO, representing 12.5 million members, and have partnered with the BlueGreen Alliance, with its 15 million members. We are all on the same page when it comes to the Repair America campaign.
We’ve also had multiple meetings on the need for infrastructure repair with the White House, and the Departments of Energy and Labor. When Vice President Joe Biden rolled out the Administration’s first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review, he acknowledged the sacrifices of the people in coal country and said they could not be left behind in the transition to a cleaner energy economy. The four-year plan is designed to improve the nation’s energy infrastructure.
While it’s rewarding to know that we’re finally hearing support for our position and seeing it in writing, we have to go beyond that and make sure the funding to Repair America follows.
All this, and more, will be taken up at the 30th Constitutional Convention. There, we will come together, make plans for the next four years, and continue to fulfill our mandate to improve the lives of our members. We will make history.
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