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Puerto Rican workers: No peace if energy is privatized

By various - Workers World, June 7, 2021

On June 1, the Financial Oversight and Management Board overseeing Puerto Rico’s economy privatized the island’s public power utilities by signing a $1.3 billion contract with private consortium LUMA Energy. The contract, in effect for the next 15 years, could increase electric rates by 10 cents/kwh or more.

LUMA customers are already encountering new fees and significantly higher bills than formerly paid to the public Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority. Thousands of PREPA workers have lost their jobs. The privatization has fueled demonstrations including encampments and picket lines at plant gates. Further actions could lead to mass protests similar to those in summer 2019 that forced former Governor Pedro Rosselló to resign.

The following is a statement from unions representing thousands of Puerto Rican workers, ranging from teachers to truck drivers, in support of PREPA workers and demanding the LUMA contract be repealed.

Puerto Rico unions close ranks against LUMA Energy

By Wilmarilis Sánchez-Romeu and Edwin Ocasio Feliciano - Struggle La Lucha, June 4, 2021

Union organizations today warned Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and the Financial Oversight and Management Board that they will paralyze the country if the LUMA Energy contract that increases rates, allows the consortium to leave Puerto Rico if a hurricane strikes, and displaces thousands of workers, is not canceled.

“We are warning the attorney for the Financial Oversight and Management Board, Pedro Pierluisi, that there will be no peace in Puerto Rico if the contract is not repealed and they listen to the people who demand, not only a public and more efficient Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), but also one free of fossil fuels. 

“Right now there is a favorable atmosphere for paralyzing the country and if the governor continues to ignore the people, we will do so. We have already held several meetings to coordinate logistics and dates, and this week we will meet again to finalize details. Make no mistake, this summer will be one very similar to that of 2019,” said Carlos Rodríguez, coordinator of the Frente Amplio de Camioneros (Broad Front of Truckers).

“Today, we tell LUMA not to bother settling in our country since we will not leave them alone until they leave Puerto Rico. And the workers who they intend to bring in from abroad should know that if they cross the picket line, they will face a people willing to defend their energy sovereignty and their access to water. There is no life without water and electricity! 

What would a just transition look like for the Navajo Nation?

By staff - Grist, February 1, 2021

Two decades ago, Nicole Horseherder, a member of the Navajo Nation, coordinated a community meeting. Beneath the shade of Juniper trees at her late grandmother’s house, several dozen people gathered to find a way to protect their pristine water. The springs and wells along Black Mesa, a semi-arid, rocky mesa that overlies the Navajo Aquifer, were increasingly drying up, as tens of billions of gallons of potable water were used to extract, clean, and transport coal mined in the region.

This meeting was the start of a long struggle to safeguard the community from coal projects, which threatened the drinking water supply of both the Navajo and Hopi people. “The mining was using so much of our groundwater and making these really adverse, tremendous impacts on the water table, water quality, and pressure of the aquifers,” says Horseherder.

In 2001, Horseherder formed Tó Nizhóní Ání, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing awareness to the environmental degradation and exploitation caused by coal mining. This has involved direct action, passing tribal resolutions, and negotiating higher rates for the water and coal procured from their land. “So, that’s where we ended up as water protectors—going after the entity that was using our only potable source of water,” Horseherder says.

After decades of activism to protect the water, along with changing economic conditions in the fossil fuel industry, several key coal projects have closed. In 2005, Peabody Energy’s Black Mesa Mine was shut down, a project that drew up to 4,400 acre-feet of water per year to feed a slurry coal pipeline to a coal-fired generating station in Nevada. In 2019, the Salt River Project’s Navajo Generating Station and Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine, which supplied coal to the power plant, were also closed.

These projects leave behind a complex legacy: They represent both a major loss of jobs yet also an opportunity to build a new, more sustainable economy and rectify long-standing environmental injustices.

Doing It Right: Colstrip's Bright Future With Cleanup

By staff - Northern Plains Research Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1638, July 2018

In 2018, Northern Plains Research Council partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local union 1638 to conduct a research study into the job creation potential of coal ash pond cleanup in Colstrip, Montana.

Because coal ash pond closure and associated groundwater remediation is only now becoming a priority for power plants, there are many unanswered questions about the size and nature of the workforce needed to do it right. This study aims to shed light on some of the cleanup work being done now around the country and what that might mean for the Colstrip workforce and community.

From the executive summary: Coal ash waste is polluting the groundwater in Colstrip, but cleaning it up could provide many jobs and other economic benefits while protecting community health.

This study was conducted to analyze the job-creation potential of cleaning up the groundwater in Colstrip, Montana, that has been severely contaminated from leaking impoundments meant to store the coal ash from the power plants (Colstrip Units 1, 2, 3 and 4). Unless remediated, this contamination poses a major threat to public health, livestock operations, and the environment for decades.

Communities benefit from coal ash pond cleanup but the positive impacts of cleanup can vary widely depending on the remediation approach followed. Certain strategies like excavating coal ash ponds and actively treating wastewater lead to more jobs, stabilized property values, and effective groundwater cleanup while others accomplish only the bare minimum for legal compliance.

This study demonstrates that, with the right cleanup strategies, job creation and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand, securing the future of the community as a whole.

Read the text (PDF).

East Bay Community Energy Local Development Business Plan (LDBP)

By staff - EastBay Community Energy, 2018

This plan was shaped by community organizers including several union workers and is an example of what a community and/or worker run CCA looks like.

The Local Development Business Plan (LDBP) is intended to develop a comprehensive frame-work for accelerating the development of clean energy assets within Alameda County. The LDBP explores how EBCE can contribute to fostering local economic benefits, such as job creation, customer cost- savings, and community resi-ience. The LDBP also identifies opportunities for development of local clean energy resources, explains how to achieve EBCE’s communit y benefits goals, and provides strategies for local workforce development for adoption by the EBCE Board of Directors.

Read the report (PDF).

IBEW 569 Position on Reaching 100% Renewable Energy

By staff - IBEW 569, November 3, 2017

Whether a utility, municipal program, CCA or another provider or program, providers and subcontractors shall:

  1. Energy Identification: Inform customers of the percentage of renewable, greenhouse-gas-free electricity offered. Power may be labeled as “clean” or “green” if it comes from renewable energy generated from solar, wind, geothermal and other eligible renewable energy resources in California and defined by California law in the Public Utilities Code as Category 1.
  1. Exclude RECs: Provide renewable energy from actual renewable sources customers can trust while creating union jobs in the community for local workers. Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) undermine these goals. There is no guarantee power content that includes voluntary RECs is clean or green therefore it must not be marketed as “clean” or “green” so as not to mislead the public.
  1. Communication to Consumers: Send at least three written notices to potential customers, and each notice will include a description of the percentage of the power mix that comes from California solar, wind, geothermal, small hydro-electric or other state certified green power sources.
  1. Creating Union Jobs: Procure power from union-generated sources; employ unionized customer service representatives; sign Project Labor Agreements on each Power Generation Project; sign Project Labor Agreements on Energy Efficiency Projects/Programs; agree in writing to neutrality in the event employees or subcontractor employees wish to unionize.
  1. Community Benefits: Sign Community Benefits Agreements to include local projects and local hiring and prioritizing projects, programs and actions to reduce emissions in disadvantaged communities that rank in the top 25 percent of CalEnviroScreen’s ranking for San Diego region communities.
  1. Local Project Build-Out: Emphasize development of new renewable resources from proven developers in San Diego and adjacent counties and strictly limit the use of non-renewable energy sources that are recognized under the California RPS to the amount permitted as “Qualified Renewable Resource.”
  1. Energy Efficiency: Develop a resource plan that integrates supply-side resources with programs that will help customers reduce their energy costs through improved energy efficiency and other demand-side measures. As part of this integrated resource plan, actively pursue, promote and ultimately administer a variety of customer energy efficiency programs that can cost-effectively displace supply-side resources.
  1. Workforce Impacts: Determine if the program will 1) result in negative impacts for employees of the incumbent utility (including layoffs, work hour reductions, etc.) and 2) if the wages, fringe benefits and job protections are similar to those offered by the utility to employees in comparable job classifications.

Puerto Rico Still in the Dark: the Case of Whitefish Energy and Million Dollar a Year Lineman

By Roy Morrison - CounterPunch, October 25, 2017

Lights, cell service, sewer and water treatment plants came back on quickly in Florida and Houston after hurricane Maria. But Puerto Rico still remains largely in the dark one month later, with power restored to only 20% of the island.

Mutual aid from the nation’s utilities saved the day in Texas and Florida. 5,000 utility workers rushed in to restore power. Under mutual aid, workers earn normal wages, around $1,300 a week ($70,000 a year) plus expenses for linemen, the costs to be repaid from rates collected by the local utility that was helped. The system worked spectacularly well in Houston and Florida.

But in Puerto Rico little has been accomplished so far. PREPA (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) rejected the offers for mutual aid stating that as a bankrupt company it could not guarantee repayment to helping utilities. Instead, PREPA signed a $300 million dollar contract with Whitefish Energy, an unknown two person firm from Whitefish Montana to restore much of Puerto Rico’s power. Whitefish Montana, by coincidence, is also the home of Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke. One of Zinke’s sons reportedly worked for Whitefish Energy as a summer flagger.

What’s most interesting are the labor rates to be charged by Whitefish for the 300 lineman it plans to bring to Puerto Rico to work as sub-contractors disclosed in a Oct. 23, Washington Post story. Lineman will be paid $319 an hour, and nightly accommodation fees of $332 a worker ,plus $80 food allowance. This should mean over one million dollars a year per lineman (if they work ten hours a day for six days a week with two weeks vacation) just for wages.This means $300 million for 300 lineman.

Mutual aid, in contrast would mean lineman would be paid $70,000 a year, plus $30,000 living allowance or $100,000 a year. $300 million should pay for 3,000 mutual aid lineman, not 300 lineman under the gold plated Whitefish Contract.

Something smells really fishy about this deal.

Meanwhile Americans in Puerto Rico remain without lights, without water, without sewage treatment, without cell service, without proper medical care while the owners of tiny Whitefish Energy become very rich men indeed.

Networked socialism: back to the future

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 23, 2016

Germany, 1888. Karl Steinmetz, a precociously smart twenty-year old student, quit the university town of Breslau with the police on his heels. Steinmetz had been caught up in the crackdown on the Social Democrats, then Europe’s largest socialist movement by far.

Soon after starting university, Steinmetz joined the socialist club, which was banned after affiliating with the Social Democrats. A previous round of arrests had hit a party newspaper, The People’s Voice, and he took over as editor. Soon afterwards, he wrote an article that was deemed inflammatory, and he had to flee arrest.

Steinmetz emigrated to the US, travelling steerage class (i.e. sleeping in the hold). He anglicised his first name to Charles, and soon found work at a small electrical firm in New York. He became an electrical engineer and by 1893, aged 28, had made a key contribution to the invention of alternating current (AC) transmission equipment, working out mathematical formulae essential to its construction.

The electrical industry was in its infancy: the world’s first power stations had been opened in London and New York eleven years before in 1882. This incredible technology made it possible to produce artificial heat and light of unprecedented quality, and to power new gadgets from irons and radios to fridges. It paved the way for automation of factories, and underpinned the communications revolution of telephone and telegraph. Within a few decades a world without it would seem unthinkable to people in the rich countries.

Steinmetz’s work on AC current was crucial to the system’s growth. With transformers and high-voltage AC transmission lines, electricity could travel long distances, and a patchwork of local networks could be unified into regional or national grids.

When the small company Steinmetz worked for, Eickemeyer, was taken over by General Electric, he moved into senior research jobs and ended up as the head of the engineering consulting department. But his glittering engineering career didn’t lead to him abandoning his socialist ideas. On the contrary, he wrote and spoke about how electricity networks would hasten the arrival of a socialist society.

Steinmetz believed that, because electricity can not be efficiently stored, the network’s expansion would inherently compel producers and consumers to cooperate collectively. This would more rapidly usher a socialist economy into being.

“Implied in this argument was a planned economy, run by technocrats who would engineer this cooperation, by deciding which utilities to interconnect and when industries should consume electricity”, wrote Ronald Kline, Steinmetz’s biographer.[1]

Like many reformist socialists, Steinmetz thought that electrical networks, properly regulated by the state, could help to turn massive capitalist industrial corporations into socialist ones.

Back in Germany, and in Britain – where the welfare of urban workers had become a battlecry for many socialists, and liberals – the “municipal socialists” saw provision of electricity, along with e.g. water and sewage services, as a way for local government to constrain the power of private corporations.

But belief in the progressive potential of technology was in no way limited to the right wing.

NUMSA and allies call for dismantling the ‘mineral energy complex’

By NUMSA - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 19, 2015

Electricity Crisis Conference Declaration

  1. Introduction:

We, as representatives of trade unions that organise in the energy sector and delegates from communities that are struggling around outages, loadshedding, high electricity prices and poor quality of energy services, met for four days (from 02 to 05 June 2015) in the midst of what we consider as a far-reaching electricity crisis in our country. As we met, on the table of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) is an application by South Africa’s electricity utility – Eskom – for a 25.3% increase in the price of electricity for the year 2015/16 to 2017/18. As we met, Nersa had agreed to grant municipalities an above-inflation increase of 12.2% from 01 July 2015 and that nine municipalities were applying for average increases above the Nersa increase guideline of 12.2%. We also gathered when delegates at this conference from two municipalities were unsure whether they will reach their homes at the end of our deliberations still with some power, as Eskom threatened to plunge into darkness their defaulting municipalities today.

The electricity crises that face us worsen with each day that passes. The crisis is multipronged. It is a supply crisis and chronic load-shedding. What we see is a financial meltdown of Eskom; massive cost and time overruns in the build programme of new power plants such Medupi and Kusile; and a worsening governance practices within Eskom as executives come and go, leaving with millions of rands as golden handshakes. We have also seen the downgrading of Eskom within capital markets and a ballooning debt for the utility as municipalities fail to pay their bills to Eskom.

As delegates to this Electricity Crisis Conference, we are enthused that our people are refusing to shoulder the implications and consequences of the crises. Throughout the four days, we heard of gallant battles against unaffordable electricity increases and imposition of prepaid meters that are being waged in different communities who refuse to have the burden of the electricity crises shifted onto them. At the forefront of these battles are women who unfortunately still bear the brunt of reproductive activities in our society. Our people realise that the electricity crises directly affects their children’s ability to learn and to be taught as schools are cut off. Our people realise that as most of their staple diets are electricity intensive, tariff hikes increase food hunger in South Africa. They know that an increase in the price of electricity will lead to retrenchments and short-time for workers.

IBEW, Fitters Locked Out by Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

By Alex Lotorto - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, July 18, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

To: Executive Board, Officials, and Business Agents, et al.

  • United Association Local Union 524
  • IBEW Local 81
  • IUOE Local 542
  • Teamsters Local 229
  • LIUNA Local 130

From:  Alex Lotorto

Electrical Workers, Fitters are Locked Out By Construction Standards for the Milford and Easton Compressor Station Expansions

The proposed Milford and Easton Compressor Station expansions are part of Columbia Gas Transmission Co.’s (subsidiary of NiSource) East Side Expansion Project. Both proposed expansions do not utilize industry best practices to reduce or eliminate emissions that also require more manhours to install. This means that NiSource, which earned $5.7 billion in net revenue last year, is minimizing its costs, effectively swindling trade union members out of the best possible Project Labor Agreements. In this case, the cause of labor is also aligned with the cause of local environmentalists who seek to limit unnecessary harm to public health and air quality.

Specifically, it has been established by the gas industry associations and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Natural Gas Star program, that electric compressors, gas capture technology, and limiting production tank emissions are now the best practices for protecting air quality during transmission and distribution of natural gas. Columbia Gas is a partner in the EPA’s Natural Gas Star program and should be aware of their own recommendations.

In fact, technology like electric compressors and gas capture methods that eliminate blowdowns of methane during maintenance and inspections can pay for themselves as more methane is shipped to downstream customers. Methane that is now released into the atmosphere during blowdowns could be injected into the intersecting Tennessee and Transco pipelines at the Milford and Easton facilities, respectively, and sold to market. This would generate savings for NiSource within one to three years, depending on the price of methane. Above, you will find links to fact sheets for these technologies from the EPA, produced via industry partnerships.

Commonly, best practice recommendations become codified in EPA regulations once they have been shown to work in the field. This is the case for production tank rules limiting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions to less than four tons per year, about to be enforced in January 2015 . Both Milford and Easton facilities will have waste liquid and condensate tanks that will be required to be fitted with VOC control technology next year. However, NiSource stated to Milford residents in pre-filing meetings that they will not be installing this technology, meaning lost work for union members and more exposure for neighboring families. In fact, there is nothing in their Resources Report submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describing VOC controls. There is also nothing in the Resources Report describing how hazardous waste will be tended, removed, and disposed of from the facilities, a responsibility best handled by trained union labor.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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