The coronavirus, unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking hurricanes, and the protests for racial equality and justice, all converged to make 2020 a year of transformative change.
Through it all, UWUA members proved their resilience by confronting head-on each of these challenges to ensure life sustaining water, gas, and electricity is delivered safely and as equitably as possible, given the utility industry, to hundreds of millions of Americans.
These pages highlight some of the heroic measures UWUA members took throughout this momentous year.
Combating the California and Oregon wildfires required extraordinary effort and coordination. And every step of the way, UWUA California Water Utility Council members in Locals 160, 160-C, 160-D, 205, 283, and 484 stood tall, supporting their communities, maintaining water pressure to fight the fires, assisting customers, and repairing leaks. All while observing social distancing, fighting heat prostration with temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees, servicing members, attending safety and other meetings; and prepping for upcoming contract negotiations. Some continued their duties even after evacuating their homes as the fires threatened to engulf their communities.
Cal Water created various procedures for emergency/catastrophic events, including the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC relies on the Power for America’s (P4A) Union Safety Advocate Program to ensure that members are working safely and prepared with the necessary tools, and to disseminate information to communities when a catastrophic event is triggered by PG&E’s Public Safety and Power Shutoff (PSPS).
As Safety Advocate for Northern California and Vice-President of CWUC, Scott Carmichael, explains, “I, along with the other Safety Advocates, provide critical input to keep our members safe. This is particularly important under COVID, with the recent fires and heat we have been experiencing.”
Planning for, and being prepared to work in a crisis is critical. Training and working at different times of day helps to ensure workers can work an emergency at any hour of the day and in varying weather. Through PSPS, members train to ensure safety and readiness for emergencies, and prepare “go bags” or “bug out bags” to live out of hotels if necessary.
The need for this was brought home in Oregon, where Local 609 member Robert Buckmaster and his children had 20 minutes to grab some clothes and essentials and evacuate his house in Talent, OR.
As this historic year comes to a close, UWUA members are now even more battle tested, more resilient than ever, and prepared to take on the challenges and demands these transformative times bring.