After two years of meeting cancelations and attempts to replace in-person meetings with virtual meetings, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) will return to hosting in-person events in 2022 with its regional education conferences. The conferences will begin with the Region V meeting in Redondo Beach, California, on March 24 – 26; followed by a combined Region II & III meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 2 – 4; then Region IV in Chicago, Illinois, on August 11 – 13; and finally Region I in Providence, Rhode Island, on September 14 – 16. The decision to resume in-person meetings was not an easy one.
In early 2021, the officers were hopeful that the UWUA Power for America (P4A) Training Conference could be held in person later that fall; however, as the pandemic wore on, it became clear that the world was just not ready for large in-person gatherings. Therefore, the UWUA held its first large-scale virtual conference, the 2021 Power for America Training Conference, in November of 2021. Attendance at the virtual conference was certainly lighter in comparison to an in-person event, but the 2021 P4A Conference was successful under the circumstances. The UWUA committed a portion of the funds that would have been utilized for an in-person conference and created many training videos that will be used to form a video training library under the P4A. These training videos are important tools and are still available for viewing at www.P4ATrainingInAction2021.com.
As the officers contemplated the 2022 regional conferences, the number one concern was the health and safety of the members, staff, and guests who would be in attendance. As luck would have it, while the officers were making the decision to hold the conferences in-person, I, as a trustee of the Power for America Training Trust Fund, attended the first in-person large meeting I had been in almost two years. Executive Director Jonathon Harmon, fellow fund trustee Adrian Duenas from Local 18007, and I attended a three-day Department of Labor required trustee training in San Diego, California. The training was attended by approximately 300 people and provided me with the confidence that UWUA could safely and effectively hold in-person events. I have attended this training a couple of times over my time as a trustee to the P4A and can honestly say that, even though attendees were continually reminded of COVID safety protocols, including maintaining social distance and mask-wearing, the training was not negatively impacted.
One of the challenges in returning to large-scale in-person meetings is determining the proper level of precautions and protections to take. This is made even more difficult when building a plan that must be applied in multiple cities across the country, all of which have their own COVID safety requirements. As mentioned earlier, our primary concern is for the health and safety of the attending members, staff, and guests, all the while attempting to establish requirements that do not significantly infringe on our members’ personal choice. After lengthy discussion involving the UWUA’s officers, legal counsel, and safety director, and to protect all attendees, especially those who may be immunocompromised, a plan was developed that includes requiring attendees to be vaccinated or provide proof of a negative viral COVID-19 test within 24-72 hours before the start of the conference. Attendees will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing during attendance, as well as adhere to any additional local requirements for large gatherings.
The officers of the UWUA are confident that returning to in-person conferences can, with the necessary precautions and protections, be done safely. We look forward to the membership’s attendance at the 2022 UWUA Regional Training Conferences. This year’s conferences will include a focus on organizing, both internally and externally, as well as presentations on public campaigns, and a legal and safety update. For additional details, check with your local union leadership as your region’s conference approaches.