Business Manager and President Buddy Thoman, along with linemen Joe Davis and Mike Butler, were invited to Washington DC on Wednesday, July 10th, 2019, to help usher in a House of Representatives resolution, proposed by Rep. Linda Sanchez (CA), to designate the day as National Lineworkers Recognition Day. July 10th is significant, because it’s the date in 1896 that IBEW founder and first president, Henry Miller, died from injuries he sustained while trying to restore power in a northwest Washington DC neighborhood.
“The resolution is really a messaging piece which talks about the value, the dedication, and the dignity of work,” Sanchez remarked at a ceremony on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon. “The work that Lineworkers do is dangerous and important work, and they are an integral part of our communities.” Sanchez, a former compliance officer and member of Santa Ana Local 441, noted with pride that a few more than 100 of her fellow House members had quickly signed on to cosponsor the resolution, H.Res. 478. The bill was also backed by IBEW, the Utility Workers Union of America, and the investor-owned utilities that comprise the Edison Electrical Institute.
“Our hardworking lineworkers 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. “It’s never easy, but they know that the job needs to be done. Today is the day to say thanks for all they do for us and our communities.”
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,” he 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 cofounded the bi-partisan Congressional Building Trades Caucus with New Jersey’s own Rep. Donald Norcross, “to teach Congress to respect the people that work out in the open, like you all do, in the worst conditions.”
Norcross, a member and former Business Agent of Folsom’s 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,” Norcross 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 US Capitol building. The demonstration provided a chance for the 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 Local 94’s own Mike Butler to describe what some of this 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 fire and EMS can get in,” said Butler. After serving in the Army, Butler became a journey 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 10th is the only one backed by 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 US, as well as Canada, where efforts to have the July 10th date similarly commemorated continue to have the full support of IBEW’s First District members, the Canadian Electricity Association, and the Canadian Labour Congress.