A new training program developed and run by Local 18007 is turning seasonal workers into full-time workers at Chicago’s Peoples Gas.
The company has about 150 seasonal workers who work full-time hours but only 10 months a year so are not classified as full-time employees. While they are members of Local 18007, they miss out on the benefits of full-time classification, such as higher pay and full benefits and the ability to be classified as a ‘utility worker’ under the 18007-Peoples Gas contract.
Like many UWUA locals, 18007 has an aging membership which raised two concerns for the local’s leadership: the work expertise that will be lost with coming retirements and the implications for worksite safety. Part of the solution was to develop a plan of action to get seasonal workers trained and into full-time positions.
18007’s business manager Adrian Dueñas took the lead and working in partnership with President Timothy Jaroch convinced the company to hire seasonal workers into full-time positions if the union provided training to bring their skills up to par. Dueñas then went to work developing a training program taught by 18007 retirees onsite at Peoples Gas.
Groups of 12 workers study two nights a week and every other Saturday for 12 weeks, learning the basics of gas turn-ons and how to set a meter and work on a gas main. At the end of the process, they take a test. If they pass, they have a full-time job. So far, two groups have graduated, and more are currently in training. Jaroch reports that graduates are happy. “It’s an intensive program, but they all hung in there and now have secure jobs with more benefits and protections.”
The plan is to get all interested seasonal workers through the program and then expand it to over 100 part-time project workers who want full-time jobs. “We don’t want this to be a one-and-done,” said Jaroch. “This new program, along with 18007’s participation in the UMAP program, will help ensure we always have enough trained workers in the pipeline as our older members retire.”
Jaroch says the other — and arguably larger — challenge facing his local is to keep natural gas viable while many forces push against the continued use of fossil fuels. “We can’t be complacent. We have to educate ourselves on the facts and be able to explain our case to policymakers and consumers.”