The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Workforce front and center for utility future
On Dec. 23, two days before Christmas, Connecticut and the New England region were battered by Winter Storm Elliot. There was a feeling, heading into the holiday weekend, that some might be forced to celebrate in the dark — with a cold front coming in.
But thanks to the hard-working men and women of United Illuminating, every single customer in UI’s service territory had their power restored by Christmas Eve. Our front-line workers were well prepared, responded quickly, and in many cases changed travel, time off, and family plans to answer the call to service. I was happy to see that many of our line workers were able to finish the job in time to spend the holiday with their families. And then, on Monday, many of those same men and women hopped on trucks and traveled to other states, like Maine, to help with ongoing restoration work in areas hit with more severe storm impacts.
Over recent weeks, there’s been a lot of discussion taking place among Connecticut’s elected officials and regulatory leaders about the role of the utilities, how they should be regulated, and what investments they should be able to make. As the president of UWUA Local 470-1, representing the hard-working men and women on the front lines, I feel the need to speak up, as these discussions take place, to urge our state leaders and regulators to remember the heart and soul of United Illuminating — its workforce.
I’m talking about line workers, call center operators, customer service associates — the people doing the work, day after day, to meet the needs of the communities we serve. The people who work through weekends, holidays and severe weather to make sure we keep the lights on. Those that help people with a question about their bill or their service. The folks traveling to communities throughout our service territory to meet face-to-face with customers and provide information about programs UI offers to help them manage their energy bill. These are the people who help keep our communities and our economy going. The work they do — especially our line workers and storm response teams — is often dangerous, and requires tremendous skill, training, and resources. It also takes a steadfast dedication to public service.
As Connecticut considers whether to move forward with legislation that would impose new regulations, and scrutinizes UI’s investments in its proposed rate plan, our elected and regulatory leaders should keep these front-line workers at the center of their decision making.
We know there is a lot of work that needs to be done to strengthen and modernize our grid, and build an electric system that will help us deliver the clean energy future Connecticut is pursuing. The men and women of United Illuminating can get the job done. But we need the investment, and the resources, to make it happen — and more importantly, to make it happen safely, so we make sure the men and women in bucket trucks working the lines return home to their families at the end of every day.
I urge our leaders to avoid any laws or regulations that would distract from that critical mission. We should instead turn our focus to the investments we need to make in our infrastructure, the men and women who will build, service, and maintain it, and how we can help them get the job done safely.
A healthy utility needs a healthy work force, and healthy communities need a healthy utility. Let’s make sure we’re giving these men and women the tools, resources, and support they need to get the job done for families across Connecticut.