On July 10, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California formally introduced a House of Representatives resolution to designate that date as National Lineworkers Recognition Day.
|Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, left, a member of Folsom, N.J., Local 351, speaks with Cranbury, N.J., Local 94 member Mike Butler, a troubleshooter with Public Service Energy and Gas during a National Lineworkers Recognition Day event near the U.S. Capitol on July 10.
“The resolution is really a messaging piece which talks about the value, the dedication and the dignity of work,” Sanchez said at a ceremony on Capitol Hill that afternoon. “The work that lineworkers do is dangerous and important work, and they are an integral part of our communities.”
July 10 is significant because it’s the date in 1896 that the IBEW’s founder and first president, Henry Miller, died from injuries he sustained while trying to restore power in a northwest Washington, D.C., neighborhood.
“Our hardworking line workers put their lives on the line every day to ensure our nation has the power it needs to keep moving forward,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson in a statement. “It’s never easy, but they know that the job needs to be done. July 10 is the day to say thanks for all they do for us and our communities.”
Sanchez, a former compliance officer and member of Santa Ana, Calif., Local 441, noted with pride that more than 100 of her fellow House members had quickly signed on to cosponsor the resolution, H.Res. 478. It’s also backed by the IBEW, the Utility Workers Union of America and the investor-owned utilities that comprise the Edison Electrical Institute.
During the July 10 ceremony, International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper touted the union’s successful partnerships with these utilities.
“We have something that ties us together, a common thread, and it’s called ‘safety,’” Cooper told the gathering of lawmakers, union officials and electrical industry representatives. “They take safety very seriously, and we are appreciative of our relationship with them.”
Also speaking at the ceremony was Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, who worked in construction before entering politics.
“People don’t understand the work that you do, the danger,” McKinley said, “all the things we have to do to protect our gear, to make sure that you can be protected to come home at night.”
In 2016, McKinley co-founded the bi-partisan Congressional Building Trades Caucus with Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, “to teach Congress to respect the people that work out in the open, like you all do, in the worst conditions,” he said.
Norcross, a member and former business agent of Folsom, N.J., Local 351, spoke about the preparations lineworkers make when weather disasters loom.
“When everybody else is evacuating, that’s when you see those long lines of trucks going towards the storm,” he said. “That’s what keeps America rolling, to keep the power going.”
Earlier in the day, Norcross addressed a mid-morning “Touch the Truck” event on the west side of the U.S. Capitol building. The demonstration provided a chance for members of the public to meet lineworkers from Nevada’s NV Energy and New Jersey’s Public Service Electric and Gas, as well as to get hands-on with a bucket truck and some of the equipment lineworkers use on the job.
“What you hear and see today, 99.9% of America has no idea that it goes on,” Norcross said. “Nothing goes to describe what it’s like living in the cab of that truck for a week, when the power’s out and you’re trying to help those men and women whose homes and businesses depend on it.”
Norcross asked PSE&G troubleshooter Mike Butler, a member of Cranbury, N.J. Local 94, to describe some of what his job entails.
“I’m on the emergency position — almost like a first-responder — for a multitude of problems, whether it’s part-power, no-power, wires down, public safety, broken poles, entrapments, things like that, making the area safe before the fire and EMS can get in,” said Butler. After serving in the Army, Butler became a journeyman lineman with Local 94, working in PSE&G’s line department for nearly 10 years before becoming a troubleshooter. “We’re usually the only contact people have with the power company,” he said.
There have been a number of attempts in Congress over the last several years to set aside various dates for some type of lineworker appreciation, but the effort to set aside July 10 is the only one backed by the IBEW.
“Electrical lineworkers build and maintain the framework for bringing power to hundreds of millions of customers across North America,” said Utility Director Donnie Colston. “Their skill and their sacrifice get overlooked too often.”
In California, the leaders of Diamond Bar Local 47 and Vacaville Local 1245 successfully lobbied in 2014 to have the Golden State officially recognize the date of Miller’s death as Lineman Appreciation Day.
Many other utilities this year participated in Lineworker Recognition Day across the U.S. as well as in Canada, where efforts to have the July 10 date similarly commemorated continue to have the full support of IBEW’s First District members, the Canadian Electricity Association, and the Canadian Labour Congress.