In the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors says, “Do you know what today is? Today is tomorrow. It happened.” As we approach year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all feeling emotionally and physically exhausted and to a certain extent like we’re stuck in the same time loop as Phil Connors. Mask protocols and ever-changing COVID restrictions that have been imposed, lifted and imposed again are exhausting. Our collective grief from all of this illness and loss of life weighs heavy.
The pandemic has taught us a lot about ourselves, our families and our working lives. COVID reinforced the notion that while we’re at work – whether it’s during a global pandemic or anytime we face utility hazards – safety remains the highest priority. Job briefings, safety checks, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and the hyper-vigilance that comes with working in these conditions grinds on us. However, these routines and protocols have helped us all stay safe and go home to our families.
In this first edition of The Utility Worker magazine of 2022, we examine what the future of workplace safety looks like from a few locals that are innovating. In the cover story, Owning Safety in an Unsafe World we learn how union-led safety initiatives from locals in different industries from Wyoming, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, and Massachusetts are working for members.
This important piece shows there’s no wrong way to strengthen workplace safety culture; from employing full-time safety representatives (models used by Local 1-2, Michigan State Utility Workers Council and California Water Utility Council, for example), to a peer-to-peer model (used at Locals 127, 648, 369 and 335), or a statewide consortium (like that used by Locals 428, 397, 427, 425, 434), these locals are setting the bar high. I’m confident there’s something we can take and apply in our work from all of these examples.
Sharing proven, effective strategies and best practices to protect ourselves at work and gain leverage with our employers gives us strength and solidarity. It’s part of the reason I look forward to finally seeing more of you in person during our four regional conferences this year. We’ve determined there is a path forward for us to safely meet and share organizing, safety and legal strategies to further build our strength. Check out this edition of the magazine to hear what’s in store for the conferences and check back for updates at www.uwua.net.
Finally, the energy sector has changed in more ways over the past few years than I’ve seen it change in my entire career. Two stories in this edition of The Utility Worker help us make sense of what some of those changes mean and what some locals are experiencing with regard to recent efforts by cities and states around the country attempting to ban new gas construction.
The first piece by Renewable Energies Director Jim Harrison explores what kinds of pressures utility sector employers face nationally in this existing regulatory and legislative environment and what kinds of investments we might expect from them in hydrogen, electric vehicle infrastructure, renewable energy and other sectors.
The other story I want to spotlight for you is an opinion piece that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Gas Workers Employees Union Local 686 President Keith Holmes. This article speaks to an issue a few locals faced in recent years. President Holmes explains possible impacts he sees on 1,000 workers who supply natural gas to Philadelphia and low-income residents if the city were to eliminate natural gas. It’s a must-read column.
It’s a new year and it’s a good time to take a deep breath and move forward together more strategically and intentionally. This pandemic will not have a grip on us forever. There is an end in sight to this feeling that we’re living Groundhog Day, the movie. Like Murray’s character Phil Connors, we are finding a way to make the best of the situation. We will emerge from the pandemic stronger together and more resolute in the strength of our union.