While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone, it especially hit the military community hard. According to the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative, weekly polls and town hall discussions show that more veterans are struggling financially. Seven percent of veteran families sought emergency food assistance in the last six months and 6 percent were unable to make payments on basic utilities and rent.
P4A and UWUA’s Military Assistance Program (UMAP) recognized this need immediately. At the beginning of the pandemic, P4A, through charitable contributions from the Dixon Center, was able to provide its students gift cards to local grocery stores in Chicago and Michigan.
Behind the scenes, P4A and the UWUA’s Director of Veterans Affairs Rick Passarelli coordinated efforts to strengthen current employment training programs while growing new programs at a national level. This work led to an expansion of P4A’s work with current employers to develop new opportunities across electric, natural gas and water sectors. While COVID delayed hiring and training needs, companies are now ramping up union-led training opportunities for UWUA members.
New electric training
In late 2020, the Michigan State Utility Worker’s Council (MSUWC) negotiated a $100,000 commitment from Consumers Energy. “Through negotiations, we identified the need for more linemen,” said MSUWC President Craig Wright. “P4A already has proven its ability to train veterans for gas jobs; we knew they could meet this challenge for electric.”
Thirty-eight students began a 10-day boot camp in March. After learning and practicing the basics of climbing, 23 students decided to take the three-day orientation assessment. Eighty-three percent of those who started the assessment successfully finished and have been offered positions with Consumers Energy’s Basic Lines Apprentice (BLA) apprentice program.
Local 132 and SoCal Gas
With over 159,000 active military personnel in California, it made sense for UMAP to establish a presence. After hours spent discussing the benefits that UMAP provides, Local 132 was able to secure an agreement for P4A to build a program based at the company’s Bakersfield training site. “As president of UWUA Local 132, I am so proud to finally bring a program to SoCal Gas that gives respect and reverence to the men and women who have defended our country,” said Eric Hofmann. Program candidates will receive training to work as Leak Survey Technicians with the company. “This will be a great partnership between SoCal Gas and UWUA Local 132,” said, Passarelli. “Our partnership with the Department of Defense will help P4A offer veterans a chance to have a smooth transition from their service to civilian life by honing their professional skills and providing an opportunity to work in the utility industry,” he added. The goal is to have a program started later this year.
Turning on the faucet for veterans in water
P4A, the UWUA and American Water have been working together over the past year to build a program that would give veterans the skills needed to be utility workers for American Water in New Jersey. Besides giving workers the basics of how water gets from source to tap and back again, workers will get a look at what water workers do daily. “We are excited about this program with the UWUA and American Water,” said P4A’s Executive Director Jon Harmon. “This is our first opportunity to build a program with an employer and the union that has a national presence. We believe this will expand our ability to help service members from coast to coast.” While still in the early stages of development, everyone hopes training will begin by the end of 2021.
Strengthening foundation programs
The reason P4A is experiencing UMAP growth is due to the strength of the original program in Chicago and later in Michigan. Each program weathered the stoppage of programs during shelter in place orders in Illinois and Michigan. By the end of 2020, 37 veterans completed these programs and had jobs with Peoples Gas and Consumers Energy. The commitment has continued in 2021 with an expected 60 more veterans receiving training and employment through these two programs.