Utility and Communications Workers Join to Fight for Union Jobs and Member Safety
Rapid expansion in the communications industry over the last few decades has resulted in utility poles burdened to an ever greater degree with much more than just electric power lines. Phone companies, cable television, mobile communications providers, and more, have added their physical wires to existing electric industry poles. When companies such as ATT, Verizon, Comcast, or even Google, just to name a few, seek to add lines to existing poles, the question is raised – who performs the work of moving existing electric lines, who hangs the new wires, and who makes sure the whole process is done in a safe and timely fashion?
Pole work is union work
The physical complexity of these tasks has often led to disagreements between the electric and communication industries over how best to accomplish this work in a manner that suits the interests of both parties. In response, the Federal Communications Commission is in the midst of developing new federal regulations for how the process of making these various ‘pole attachments’ should be carried out, seeking to facilitate the rapid build-out of communications networks, but in a manner not overly disruptive to the power sector.
Despite disagreements among employers in the different sectors, the UWUA recently joined in solidarity with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) to send comments to the FCC defending the right of both unions to perform the work of moving, adding, and taking down the wires relevant to each union’s respective industries. Some of the employer companies in each industry had suggested to the FCC that the process would be easier (for them) if it were simply outsourced to one contractor to move all the wires and bypassed existing union workforces.
Do it safe, do it right, do it union
Defending the rights of both unions’ members to perform this work under existing collective bargaining agreements, UWUA President Mike Langford and CWA President Christopher Shelton stated, as part of a lengthy official comment, “As the Commission considers recommending changes to the current pole attachment rules, concern for public and worker safety and compliance with all legal requirements, including union contracts, must be paramount. Our members are on the front lines of this work and best understand how to ensure that the work is done in a safe and reliable manner. Pole attachment work is complex and, if done incorrectly, can lead to dangerous conditions for workers and the public.”
A decision from the FCC is expected early in 2018 and, following this joint advocacy with union brothers and sisters at the CWA, the UWUA will continue to monitor this rule-making closely to ensure this highly-skilled work remains union into the foreseeable future to safeguard members’ safety and jobs.