A year ago, we thought we’d be back to “normal” by this fall. We looked forward to gathering for a command performance of the Power for America (P4A) training conference last held in 2017. Like with so many other things, COVID put a kink in our plans. Undeterred, UWUA leadership and members showed ingenuity and resilience in pulling together a three-day virtual training November 8-10 that brought first class presentations and training sessions directly into the computers, phones and tablets of hundreds of UWUA members.
Nearly 500 members from 95 locals tuned in to hear from UWUA, labor and political leaders; to receive training for improving on the job safety and communication; to learn more about how the P4A is working with locals across America to build member skills and reduce workplace injury rates; and gain insights into the work of the UWUA’s National committees.
Inspired by the popular model developed by Netflix, which releases a complete season of a show on a single “drop date,” P4A produced three days of material, with each day (or “season”) including a mix of training, national committee materials, messages from national officers and Biden administration officials, and members speaking on the topic of the day. Participants were then free to either “binge watch” the entire day’s package or pick and choose pieces to watch at their convenience.
P4A Executive Director Jonathan Harmon spoke of the P4A advantage, with its core principle of “union training union” that pulls active members from the field as temporary union instructors. Harmon attributes P4A’s incredible growth in recent years to its model of employing the “best of the best” as trainers. P4A has expanded its reach beyond its Michigan headquarters to reach both coasts. In 2019-2000, P4A trained more than 9,000 members in 15 states. Training programs expanded beyond natural gas and offerings now include a full array of training for electric and water workers. Plans for 2022 include the opening of a new renewables training center and an expansion of the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program (UMAP) to Southern California.
More than anything, P4A is about ensuring UWUA members are able to live up to our union’s mantra of being the safest, most productive, highest skilled workers in the world. The 2021 Training in Action conference delivered on that promise.
COVID may have stood in the way of the in-person training many of us are accustomed to, but it couldn’t stop P4A trainers from developing top-notch content for at-home consumption. P4A National Safety Director Bill Komianos led three safety related sessions: Job Hazard Analysis, Systems of Safety and Situational Awareness. P4A National Training Director Priscilla Peloubet presented two sessions aimed at improving worksite communications: Understanding the Generations and Managing Conflict. All five videos will remain accessible to UWUA members through
Safety, safety, and more safety!
National Safety Director Scotty MacNeill led a roundtable on how to build a more effective local safety committee. He and the three National subcommittee chairs (Brian Hannon, electricity; Ronnie Woods, water; and Jim Davis, gas) shared a wealth of experience on the critical importance of having an equal and real union voice at the table on safety issues.
Four California Water members presented a case study of their experience in overcoming the perceived limits to the effectiveness of their union-management safety committee. Through collaboration with P4A, UWUA’s National Safety Committee, and the company, California Water now has a peer-to-peer program and full-time union safety representative positions. Members are seeing big improvements, and it’s a model that members everywhere can learn from and apply in their own workplaces.
Three members of the National’s Women’s Caucus put together a “Welcome to the Union” presentation that locals everywhere are encouraged to adopt for their own new members. It covers the full gamut, from an introduction to the UWUA, to an explanation of Weingarten rights, to why it’s important for new members to be engaged and involved in our union.
The Women’s Committee also presented a roundtable on how we can better foster women leaders at both the local and national levels featuring caucus co-chair and National Rep. Valerie King, Local 223 President Juanita Ray, Local 393 President Barbara Yatauro, and Local 1-2 Business Agent Jean Washington.
The future of our union, our pensions, and the welfare of our families, depends on maintaining a vibrant and strong UWUA. We need to attract new workers to our industry and our union to stay strong and be able to defend our gains and make new inroads. In the not-so-distant future, our current young members will be asked to pick up the baton of leadership and carry our union into the future. Young Workers committee members shared their journeys on how they came to be UWUA members, what the union means to them, and why young people considering career options should choose a career in the utility industry.
In a second presentation, the Young Workers presented on basic financial literacy, aimed at younger members who enter the workforce without the knowledge or experience of how to manage the money they are suddenly making as a union utility worker. The presentation focused on fundamentals of budgeting and planning for your future.