IBEW 1245 has been working for months on legislation to address the ongoing wildfire crisis in California. There’s no question that comprehensive legislation is needed to protect our communities, and we believe that any legislation passed in Sacramento must include four key elements:
- Strong language requiring PG&E and other utilities to harden their systems and infrastructure — meaning more vegetation management, more pole replacement, more reclosers, etc. This will both protect our communities and provide our members with new work for years to come.
- A fair rate recovery system in fire-related lawsuits where the utility is not negligent but still liable under the state’s ‘inverse condemnation’ law. This includes establishing factors for the PUC to consider in determining if a utility is a prudent operator entitled to spread claims costs among rate payers.
- “Securitization” language allowing PG&E to issue bonds to pay the billions in claims from the 2017 fires.
- Robust worker protections in the event of a utility bankruptcy, sale, or change of control.
After much lobbying on the part of Local 1245 — including a massive Lobby Day on Monday, Aug. 27, with more than 100 union members, leaders and staff flooding the hall of Sacramento — the joint legislative conference committee on wildfires issued legislation, known as SB 901, which met all of our major criteria. It is not a perfect bill, but it is significant and we believe that it will provide financial stability to PG&E and our members.
On Friday, AUg. 31, our organizing stewards, staff and leaders once again descended upon the Capitol in a sea of blue IBEW tee shirts, lobbying every single member of the State Legislature for the entire afternoon to ask for their support for this bill. And on late Friday night, with just minutes remaining in this year’s legislative session, both the State Assembly and Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve this essential legislation.
UPDATE: On Sept. 21, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 901 into law. “Wildfires in California aren’t going away, and we have to do everything possible to prevent them,” the Governor said in a statement. “This bill is complex and requires investment – but it’s absolutely necessary.”
Passing this bill is an enormous achievement that could never have happened without the quick and powerful mobilization that our organizing stewards and staff were able to achieve on less than 24 hours’ notice. I would especially like to thank Assistant Business Manager Hunter Stern and Senior Assistant Business Manager Bob Dean, who devoted countless hours to this legislation, which was uniformly considered to be the toughest, most difficult and most contentious issue that came up in the Legislature this year.
In my opinion, we owe this incredible achievement to the collective action that Local 1245 demonstrated in the Capitol. This is not something we could have accomplished a few years ago, and it truly demonstrates the power that our organizing steward program has when it comes to making real change for our members and our communities. Kudos to all who helped make this happen.
–Tom Dalzell, IBEW 1245 Business Manager