PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE – It’s Time for Change!

James Slevin, National President

This summer tested us in ways we’ve never been tested before. As if COVID-19 and the Delta variant weren’t bad enough, we’ve experienced unprecedented natural disasters. Extreme wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and floods are no longer an anomaly. They are the norm.

As first responders, nobody knows this better than UWUA members. We are on the front lines whenever and wherever there are natural and man-made disasters.

Climate change is real

Superstorm Sandy was considered a 100-year to a 1,500-year storm. It was less than 10 years before Hurricanes Henri and Ida hit the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard, causing unprecedented flooding this summer.

I heard a firefighter in California say that the wildfires there are no longer an anomaly, they are the norm.

The Washington Post reported recently that approximately one-third of Americans experienced a weather related disaster over the summer.

Analyzing federal disaster declarations, the newspaper concluded, “climate change has turbocharged severe storms, fires, hurricanes, coastal storms — threatening millions.” I couldn’t agree more.

People are buying electric generators to power their homes during outages and putting sprinkler systems on their homes to prevent them from burning up. Is this the way we’re supposed to live?

The utilities we work for must change to meet the demands of today and build for the future. They have stripped their workforces down to the bare bone. We need boots on the ground. We need to put people to work. We need to build our country back.

Rather than hiring a permanent workforce, more and more, utilities rely on contractors. They are only in it for one thing, to get paid. People who own a house, care about the house. It’s the same thing with utility workers. Whether it’s water, electric or gas, people who are hired by the utility care for it better than contractors do. There’s a sense of community, a sense of family in a permanent workforce.

Deregulation is at the root of today’s problems. It’s a disaster that needs to be fixed. When politicians decided to deregulate, they told every industry from the airlines to the utilities that rates would go down and service would be better. Neither has happened.

Deregulation works on a chalkboard, not in the field.

Putting utility workers first

In reality, deregulation has not made for better utilities. Think about it, we’re buying generators. We’re putting water jugs outside our homes to collect rainwater because brown water is coming out of our taps.

They deregulated, in part, to weaken the collective power of workers. Before deregulation, unionized workers had a bigger say in what was going on and this benefited consumers.

The change to renewable energy is inevitable. We shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to make sure that the existing workforce is involved in the change and that the future workforce has a say as well. The only way to do that is to empower workers through their unions.

Consumers, regulators, politicians, and the industry itself need to ask: do we have an adequate workforce to address today’s challenges and those we know are coming down the pike?

In order to do the necessary, climate-centered hardening of our infrastructure, we need to tighten up our natural gas, electric, and water systems. We need to change the way utilities work. That means putting utility workers first!

It’s time for change!