How Can We Change Our Workplaces for the Better?

President, James Slevin

We recently asked our members on Facebook, “What’s one good change you’ve seen over the course of your career in the utilities?” In your responses, safety came up most often. You brought up ways our members now have more of a say about how to safely get the job done, your ability to work more closely with the company to establish safe work practices and all the ways you benefit from greater awareness of safety standards on the job.

These changes didn’t just happen out of goodwill from the company; like I have said time and time again, “The boss is not your friend”. Things changed because you’re part of a union and you had a vision for a better workplace. You stood together in solidarity with your fellow members and you acknowledged the need for things to change.

This desire to improve our working conditions is a common thread that connects UWUA’s members today with the 50 or so members who attended UWUA’s first-ever constitutional convention in 1946. Things have changed since then – from the tools we use to the safety procedures we follow for example – but at the same time we’re still battling uncompromising employers on everything from mundane to meaningful concerns.

Looking back at the UWUA’s first convention, the delegates outlined a vision during the event that would help them further their efforts to form a strong union, to stand up to employers’ abuses of power and to grow in size and strength over the next several years.

This year we’ll be taking a fresh look at how we accomplish those goals and what vision we can put forward to meet the needs of today’s members. As we approach UWUA’s 32nd Constitutional Convention this July, I’d like us all to think about what kinds of goals and conversations we plan to have in Las Vegas, July 26-29, 2023. I look forward to seeing our members in person, but more importantly, I look forward to tackling the very important challenges that lay before us.

This year’s theme – Utility Workers: Essential by Industry, Exceptional by Choice – Embracing Our Differences, Leveraging Our Strength and Building Our Future Together – acknowledges utility workers as the unsung heroes of our everyday lives. Utility workers are there for us during every natural or manmade disaster, working in hazardous conditions. On top of all of that, utility workers are rarely recognized or thanked.

The COVID-19 pandemic crystallized all of the ways utility workers are exceptional at essential work.  You choose to risk life and limb to bring electricity, gas and water regardless of the danger or challenge that presents. This convention will honor the theme by spotlighting heroes among us, hearing from speakers about what the theme means to them, and by shining a light on members who are extraordinary.

Where we are today is a credit to the first group of delegates who gathered, and every delegate who has attended a convention since then. What great things did they dream of accomplishing together, what was beyond their vision? I imagine if these first delegates were able to glimpse the organization the UWUA has become, the things we have accomplished together since then would all be beyond their wildest dreams. What else can we work for today that will change the lives of UWUA members generations from now?

The preamble of UWUA’s constitution offers a reminder of a few of the central principles that will guide our vision setting and our work coming out of the 32nd convention. The UWUA “…is an organization of members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and by an understanding of the necessity and value of the services we provide to the public for their health and well-being. We are dedicated to improving the lives of our members and their families and to enhancing the quality of life in our communities.” This goal is especially relevant in my mind, “We commit to leave the workplace a better place for our children and our children’s children.”

I am counting down the days until we can gather once again. Until then, let’s prepare for this momentous occasion by reflecting on and sharing big ideas that will realize changes for our members today and will change future generations of utility workers’ careers for the better.