Over the years, UWUA members have been on the frontlines of every major storm and national disaster making sure communities have access to essential services. That remains the case, although this pandemic is throwing new challenges that no one has experience facing. The Utility Worker spoke to a few of the members working on gas, water and electric utilities about how coronavirus has changed their work lives. Here is their experience in their own words.
Interviews have been edited and condensed. If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Inspector in the distribution department based in Davenport, IA
We’re keeping social distancing, other than that, work is normal. In terms of regular duties, throughout the year, we’re replacing old water main or putting new water main in the ground for subdivisions. We are responsible for making sure the main is put in properly, filling the main, flushing it and bacteria testing it. We’re also responsible for outages and for tying new main into old main.
Now our engineer has stopped any projects that would mean switching services over so we eliminate being in customers’ homes. We don’t want to interact with customers at all if we don’t have to. Otherwise we’re trying to keep our six feet of social distancing with contractors and customers.
We are in masks if we have to go into the home. For the field service department, those members took their work vehicles home and they don’t even come into the shop. If they need material they come back to the shop. Our meter readers and field service techs work from home. The company has sanitizing bottles and Lysol and wipes that are kept in trucks.
Gas Service Worker based in Livonia, MI
People are calling if they’re smelling gas and I respond and make sure everything is ok.
We’re not doing typical meter work. The only calls we’re taking are no gas calls or they have a gas leak emergency and carbon monoxide emergencies. Our policy as it stands now is we go to homes and ask a series of questions — ask if they’ve been ill or exposed to someone who has tested positive. No one has said ‘yes’ to me.
Entering the home is really weird now. Typically I would go in, I’m not afraid, everything is good. Now, it is a weird feeling. You ask to maintain that six-foot distance. You immediately go into this mode that the house could have the virus, you feel like you’re about to walk into an invisible war zone. You have your mask on and have a hard time smelling.
I appreciate that I have my union. My union has been by our side. Nothing is certain and I love I have somebody by my side.
Lineman based in Queens, NY
I work second shift in Queens. I do linework, we don’t interact with the public every single minute.
It’s been a trying time in this area that’s been impacted greatly by COVID-19. We’ve had people go in houses where people are sick and had many members come down with this. Sometimes there’s a communication barrier — people are speaking many different languages — you don’t know who’s sick and who isn’t.
I’m volunteering as an EMT. It’s busy. Friday night we had 36 calls in a 24-hour period. Usually it’s 16-20 calls per day.
It’s not about giving something up, it’s about doing more. I guess if you were on the other end you’d want someone to come and as long as we’re safe enough to do it then we’ll do it.