In addition to the normal challenges facing the membership of the UWUA, including a significant hurricane season and devastating wildfires, 2020 also included a historic pandemic. In response to the pandemic, many states established shelter-in-place orders for all but essential workers. One could argue that there are no more essential workers than utility workers.
The label of essential worker means UWUA members must face the pandemic head on, day-to-day, as they perform both emergency, essential, and routine work. Throughout all of this, members of the UWUA have risen to the occasion, as they always do, showing the true meaning of essential workers both within the utility industry and in society as a whole.
Online training a success
There are not many parts of our work that are not essential, but one of those areas put on the back burner during the pandemic was training. Many state’s shelter-in-place orders included limits on gathering sizes. These limits resulted in traditional in-person training, like that provided by the Power for America Training Trust Fund (P4A), being canceled or postponed. The first quarter of 2020 saw P4A training reduced to zero as employers responded to states’ shelter-in-place orders.
Prior to the pandemic, the P4A had just begun venturing into remote and online training. The pandemic required P4A to advance this training timeline. In partnership with employers such as American Water and Cal Water, the second quarter of 2020 saw unprecedented online and remote training. At American Water, more than 1,500 members participated in over 6,500 online courses provided by the P4A. Cal Water, which had only recently joined the P4A, started a union-led safety program that got jump-started with the needed response to the pandemic. Much of the Cal Water P4A-provided training was a comprehensive program for pandemic response created by the members of the Cal Water Council via video conference.
The adaptations that were made, like online training, provide a completely new format for P4A courses.
Despite the reduced in-person training during the first quarter, there was much work being done by the P4A and its member employers to safely provide training that was postponed for the second half of the year. Beginning in July, P4A started in-person training again, beginning in Michigan and Chicago, with the Utility Workers Military Assistance Program (UMAP). In Michigan, UMAP provided training and employment opportunities to 35 veterans, and the Chicago program added another 20 veterans, while doing so safely.
Pathway to careers
There is much to be excited about with the P4A’s training plans for 2021. During 2020, the fund applied for, and was granted, a change to its non-profit status, from a labor/management fund to one that provides education. This change will allow the P4A to expand its training from incumbent/new hire training to also include pre-hire training.
This will expand the current UMAP program and also allow the P4A to become a conduit for qualified applicants to gain careers with participating employers. The end goal is for new hires to come through the P4A program, thereby building a stronger tie between the member and the union because the union provides the training that gave the new member the opportunity for employment.
The first opportunity for P4A to do new hire training will include an expansion of the P4A’s offering into electric lines work. The P4A currently provides many annually required training courses for electric lines, however, starting in December, the P4A will begin providing an electric line climbing orientation program that will focus on beginning pole climbing techniques.
In addition to the climbing orientation, beginning in February, P4A will provide an 11-week climbing school, that once completed by potential new hires, will result in an opportunity to enter into an electric line apprenticeship. The newly provided climbing school will also include a UMAP opportunity for veterans, expanding the P4A’s UMAP and the union’s commitment to our veterans.