Workers Endangered if State Mandates Takeover of Utilities

Patrick Lavin
Business Manager and Financial Secretary at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

There seems to be a misguided effort by some in the state to break up investor-owned utilities and formulate public-sector and public-funded agencies to take their place in response to the statewide impacts of wildfires. As an elected official of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) for the last 19 years, a journeyman lineman by trade for 45 years, an IBEW member for over 50 years, and who has worked for four utilities — both municipal and investor owned —  I’m familiar with the issues at hand.

In my professional opinion, a state-mandated takeover of investor-owned utilities would be a huge mistake. Our IBEW members’ livelihoods and that of their families, along with their retirements, would be at stake in such a takeover.

IBEW Local 47 represents approximately 12,000 members in Southern California. Some 1,500 are engaged in longstanding construction and maintenance on municipal utility properties throughout Southern California, including the cities of Anaheim, Banning, Colton, Riverside and Vernon. Another 1,000 work for county agencies, merchant generators, streetlight maintenance and other utility-related concerns. The other 9,500 are either directly or indirectly employed by Southern California Edison, California’s second-largest, investor-owned utility.

As evidenced by the aforementioned role the IBEW plays, we are categorically NOT opposed to publicly funded power authorities. However, I know firsthand that regardless of who owns and operates these electric, gas or water systems, they are costly, complicated and intricate systems that require 365-day, around-the-clock efforts by a highly skilled, trained and dedicated workforce. Anyone who believes the state is better equipped to take on this responsibility is being misguided.

Taking a path to a strictly publicly owned utility model would be a huge and costly undertaking. The existing laws that govern all utilities would place liabilities squarely in the laps of government officials who would NOT be sufficiently prepared or experienced to handle such a challenge. These laws and statutes have pushed Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, into bankruptcy yet again.

I would implore those in authority to abandon any attempt to further complicate the challenges facing our industry in light of the devastating recent wildfires and climate change by taking a wrong turn down that path.

 

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