UWUA hosted over 350 United Steelworkers (USW), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Unifor, United Association (UA) and UWUA members in Florida for the Inter-Union Gas Conference in September. The annual conference offers a unique opportunity for members to share concerns, safety issues and lessons learned from their experience working in the industry.
Featured speaker Eric Giguere provided compelling, first-hand testimony about the unintended consequences cutting corners on safety can have on an individual, his/her family and colleagues. He spoke about how his life changed forever on October 4, 2002 after a trenching incident left him buried underground.
Speaking to attendees he said, “In a moment I was trapped. Two-thousand pounds of dirt was on my chest on top of me and I was suffocating. I was fighting for my life and fighting to survive.” In total, Giguere was buried underground for 10 minutes after his crew cut corners during a trenching job. He issued a stern warning to attendees about the importance of safety and reinforcing a culture of safety. While he survived the incident, he suffers many health side effects 17 years later.
UWUA members were front-and-center throughout the event sharing their impactful insights. Just over one year after the Merrimack Valley gas explosions took place in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover Massachusetts, killing one person, injuring dozens of others and destroying or damaging hundreds of structures, leadership of UWUA Local 273 shared their experience managing the disaster on the ground.
President of Local 273 Scott Hunter, Vice President Tom Holmes, Secretary Tim Heath and UWUA Director of Special Projects Bobby Mahoney spoke about how their members’ expertise prevented an even worse disaster. Members’ quick-thinking throughout the day saved lives. Ultimately, the utility company took responsibility for the damage that was caused by the over-pressurized lines. Since the explosions took place, members have been replacing 44 miles of gas main lines and more than 5,000 service lines. It took over 5,000 people to complete this task. Today, these members continue to advocate the utility company enact new safety measures to prevent this kind of disaster from happening ever again.
Clerical work highlighted
In addition to offering this case study, UWUA members hosted discussions and made presentations on safety as well as utility clerical procedures and bargaining contract language. UWUA Safety Director Scotty MacNeill, along with Dan Fowkes with USW and Ryan Rodriguez with Unifor hosted a gas safety workshop about the impact of union safety committees, how to form a safety committee and work with a company to improve safety. Melissa Bateman, with Michigan State Utility Workers Council (MSUWC) Local 107, Brooke Lauber with MSUWC Local 129, Melissa Sparks with MSUWC Local 129, Jamykal Badger with Local 223, Kristi Grossholz with Local G-555, David Galvan with USW, Anita Chavez-Cervantes with IBEW and a representative with Unifor shared learnings from the clerical side of gas utilities.
UWUA President Jim Slevin, Executive Vice President Patrick Dillon and President of Local 132, Eric Hofmann also addressed attendees during the conference. UA will host next year’s conference in Las Vegas.