California utility locals held a Day of Action at the state Capitol in March, giving lawmakers and the public a look at the skills, equipment and demands of their essential, high-risk jobs. Credit: John Storey for Local 1245

Utility locals in California supercharged a Day of Action at the state Capitol in March, giving lawmakers and the public a look at the skills, equipment and demands of their essential, high-risk jobs.

On the heels of a successful Day of Action at the state Capitol, Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 members attended an Assembly vote that established March 14 as an annual Utility Workers Appreciation Day.

The next day, the Assembly voted to establish an annual Utility Workers Appreciation Day, culminating a long-term effort for that recognition.

"We work in an incredibly dangerous industry, and we want to make people aware of that and all that our members do," Vacaville Local 1245 Business Manager Bob Dean said. "Our members play a pivotal role in our state's story of economic success — but more often than not, their hard work goes unseen."

Dean noted that a large number of Local 1245 members were considered essential when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. They're also first responders whose work is often necessary for other first responders to do theirs.

"Oftentimes, we're at the scenes of accidents before the police and fire departments are," said Diamond Bar Local 47 Business Manager Colin Lavin, whose members also participated in the Day of Action on March 13. "Most of the time, our members are the ones calling the emergency services, in addition to making the area safe for the police and firefighters to conduct their business."

More than a dozen Local 47 members joined hundreds of other IBEW members who showcased their skills to state legislators, staffers, utility executives and members of the public.

"I know what it's like to work, day in and day out, through storms … having those long periods of time when you don't get to go home, and you're working in the worst weather, and all kinds of difficult terrain," said IBEW Ninth District International Vice President Dave Reaves, who previously worked as a journeyman lineman in Alaska, told the crowd at the rally. "You all know your utility systems better than anybody; you know how to safely and efficiently restore power after any climate or emergency event. It takes years of specialized training to work in our utility classifications. … You are truly the power and gas professionals in this trade."

The first-of-its-kind event was part of a larger push spearheaded by Local 1245 to educate the public about the highly skilled, essential and often dangerous work done by utility workers across the state.

"At best, utility workers are overlooked and taken for granted. At worst, they are harassed and even attacked just for doing their jobs," Dean said. "It's time for our state to acknowledge, lift up and recognize the contributions and sacrifices that our members make each and every day."

The event was hosted by the Coalition of California Utility Employees, which comprises all the IBEW utility locals in the Golden State, including Los Angeles Local 18 and San Diego Local 465. During the day, legislators and members of the public were treated to demonstrations of some of the equipment used by utility workers, like switchgears, and some got to ride in bucket trucks.

"They loved it. It was a really big hit all around," said Dean, who also said the Day of Action is planned to be an annual event. "It's not something most people get to see."

Dean and Lavin said it's important for the public, and decision-makers in Sacramento, to know just how much time and dedication goes into linework, from the four to five years of an apprenticeship, followed by more years honing their craft in all kinds of weather and under just about any type of circumstance.

"We're here to show that this isn't just your basic kind of job that any sort of person can walk up and do," said Local 1245 member Justin Henson, who offered close-up demonstrations of the work he does as a PG&E distribution line technician. "It demands and requires a high-intensity level of training, through apprenticeship programs as well as the constant on the-job training to stay up on the growing technology of today."

The Day of Action was followed the next day by a unanimous vote of the Assembly to designate March 14 as Utility Workers Appreciation Day. The Local 1245 members in attendance were given a standing ovation for their hard work, and Dean was honored on the floor for his commitment and advocacy on behalf of the state's utility workers.

As California and the rest of the country move toward a greener and more electrified future, the work of IBEW utility workers will only become more vital. As such, it's important for the public to recognize the highly trained and dedicated workers who maintain the electrical grid.

"It's important to have a day of appreciation considering everything that our members do," Lavin said. "The behind-the-scenes maintenance and construction of our electrical systems that the utilities maintain is a 24-hour business. Our members sacrifice their lives, sometimes time with their families, missing birthdays and holidays, so that we can all enjoy and rely on electricity."

Added Dean: "These workers aren't just essential. They're exceptional. This work is incredibly demanding and requires an exceptional level of skill, training, dedication and attention to detail. … We will continue to work on behalf of our members to ensure they get the respect and recognition they deserve."