California Water Utility Council, ‘Gold Standard’ for Safety

Recent natural and manmade disasters have revealed the important work UWUA members play in delivering water, gas and electricity to millions of Americans across the country. COVID-19 has only magnified that.

California is at the top of the list of states responding to multiple disasters all at once. Without the hard work and dedication of the 700 UWUA members of locals 160, 160C, 160D, 205, 283, and 484 and represented by the California Water Utility Council, all working for CalWater, things would be far worse there.

The Utility Worker interviewed California Water Utility Council President Rick Wilson to get his perspective on how things are going in the nation’s most populous state.

Pictured left – UWUA Local 160C member Cameron Del Rosario conducts a retrofit inspection on a 3 million gallon water tank

How is it going for you and your members at CalWater?

It’s been a challenge. We have a pandemic, state, county and city lockdowns. You can’t go anywhere, do anything. We have schools closed, civil unrest in our streets. We have excessive heat, power safety shut downs, and wildfires. With all this adversity, our folks are feeling the burden of strain, stress, worry, and uncertainty. But the bottom line is our members have risen to the occasion. We are putting ourselves in harm’s way. We’re doing it and we’re doing it safely.

During this pandemic we’ve been working since day one. We have a good working relationship with the company. From the very beginning, our six locals worked hand-in-hand with the company on safety. We developed protocols and procedures and we’ve kept our folks safe. Our rank-and-file members are showing up every day, shouldering it, handling it and doing their jobs. We know our jobs are important and the pandemic has highlighted the essential, critical infrastructure work we do to sustain folks. And it’s not just California, that’s true for water workers everywhere.

Freak lightening strikes caused 300 fires, what does this mean for your members?

A lot of fires are still going on. A number of our members were evacuated from multiple areas. Nobody has lost their home, thank God. We are working around the clock to make sure firefighters have pressurized water to fight the fires.

Folks don’t realize that if we’re not operating the systems, then those firefighters who are on the front lines fighting fires, protecting homes and lives, can’t do their job. There’s a lot that goes into making that happen. If you’re not maintaining the system and making sure the water is there, then when you have some 50 fire trucks pulling from 50 different hydrants in and around the same area, disaster will happen.

That’s what we do. We’re qualified, certified, responsible accountable water utility operators. The cream rises to the top when there’s a crisis. That’s when our folks step up and handle their business.

Pictured right – California Water Utility Council members working safely to keep the water flowing in a state hard-hit by multiple crises. President of Local 205, Juan Cisneros, right, and his crew fixing a water leak.

Last year, you negotiated for the creation of 3 new positions named Power for America (P4A) Safety Advocate. How are the new safety positions working out?

When the company signed on to partner with the UWUA and P4A, we agreed to create three new safety advocate positions. Everybody wants to be safe and do things safely. If you really want to build a culture of safety, you have to do it with union folks, respected union folks.

If a manager rolls up on a job and sees somebody doing something unsafely, not wearing the right PPE, or whatever, there could be a write up, suspension, or even a termination. That feeds into the us-versus-them mentality and creates what I call a “non-safety culture of safety.”

When the pandemic hit, the company reached out to us, and partnered with the union. They took a strong stance on “here’s how we’re going to protect our employees,” and we had input on that. P4A safety reps went around the districts and talked to our folks.

It works better if you have union folks who are respected by the members travel to job sites to promote safety. We’re not getting anyone written up. It’s coming from us, union-to-union, and it’s received better. We are having that conversation and building that relationship among our peers. It’s all about safety. The number of accidents is going down and it’s just started.


The Salinas Californian and San Jose Mercury News

May 15, 2020

“MOM! The Water Isn’t Working!”

It is a blessing that during the COVID-19 Pandemic, while hundreds of millions of Americans are “sheltering in place” at home, those words are not being spoken.

Is it magic? Or is it just happenstance? No, it’s the hard work and dedication of thousands of highly trained, State certified, Water Utility Workers in California and across this great country. Working diligently around-the-clock to insure this precious resource, a reliable clean source of water, is delivered to every American home, business, hospital and health care facility. Everyday these workers put themselves and their families at risk to keep and maintain clean water flowing to the public.

It’s perturbing and disheartening that during this lockdown the news media, or politicians with microphones, rarely recognize the critical and essential work being performed 24/7 by these Utility Workers.

Lastly, we cannot forget the thousands of essential and critical utility workers that have not been acknowledged either – those who keep the gas moving; the power on and the water flowing during this crisis.

Rick Wilson
President, UWUA California Water Utility Council