Approximately 30 union members from across the state participated in the fourth annual California Utility Gas Workers conference, which took place in Palm Springs in mid-December. Members from IBEW 1245, ESC Local 20, IBEW Local 465, and UWUA Locals 132, 483, and 522 attended the two-day conference, which was geared towards strengthening the coalition between the gas utility union locals, all of whom are facing a wide array of unique challenges that have and will continue to impact the natural gas industry in California.
The conference kicked off with a quick look at some of the victories and struggles that our locals worked through in 2018. Dave Lewis, PG&E’s Director of Gas Wholesale Marketing & Business Development, provided a broad overview of the gas side of the company and many of the large-scale changes that are impacting the business, including renewable natural gas and the shift towards lower emissions vehicles.
Much of the conference focused on the legislative battles we’ve fought and will continue to fight — and effective organizing tactics that bolster those lobbying efforts – in order to protect the stability of the natural gas workers we represent. IBEW 1245 Staff Organizers Eileen Purcell and Rene Cruz-Martinez lead conference attendees through a deep dive into the world of member-driven organizing as a critical tool to effect political and legislative change.
“Our presentation focused mainly in membership engagement and the recruitment of our own members and organizing stewards doing the work. The strength in numbers and the ‘sea of blue’ in the State Capitol were impactful, helping sway the outcomes for SB 1090 and SB 901 by showing state legislators what we stand for,” said Cruz-Martinez. “We explained how we continue to engage members through internal organizing… and we provided information on our political relationships and how we train and expose our organizing stewards to represent our union at the capitol halls.”
Purcell and Cruz-Martinez called upon some of IBEW 1245’s own organizing stewards to share their experiences from the hard-fought political fights that Local 1245 engaged in over the past year.
“I enjoyed being part of the organizing steward program presentation. I found that by telling our story, it helped paint the picture for the members who have hardly participated in their unions,” said Organizing Steward Nilda Garcia.
“It felt good to know that other unions look up to us and want to know how we got to where we are,” added first-year Organizing Steward Melissa Fernandez. “I’m very new to this, but the encouragement I got from everyone makes me want to do more and push people more to get involved.”
The organizing presentation was exceptionally well-received and piqued the interest of the other unions, inspiring many to consider the possibility of a network of active members across multiple union locals who would be ready to mobilize and take on the special interests that seek to drive natural gas to a premature demise in the Golden State.
The second day of the conference focused on legislative recaps, prognostication, and discussion about how our coalition can be better prepared to positively affect the outcome of what is to come. IBEW 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell provided his substantial insight into California’s political workings, while Senior Assistant Business Manager Bob Dean offered a discerning overview into the renewable energy developments that are destabilizing the traditional market for electricity produced by natural gas power plants. The attendees then broke out into groups delineated by job classification, and had the opportunity to learn about the various challenges that workers in their line of work are facing at different utilities in California. This prompted much conversation that continued to energize all in attendance to be active participants on the issues that effect the future of the natural gas industry in the state, as opposed to being mere spectators of the decision-making process.
As the conference wrapped, we gathered to plan the next steps. The primary immediate action item was to explore communication tools to stay more closely connected to our brothers and sisters in between these annual get-togethers. It was obvious to all in attendance that events are likely to unfold at a rapid pace over the next 12 months, and if we wait until next December to talk again, we will not have taken advantage of the time we spent identifying our opportunities to shape what comes of a rapidly changing utility and energy landscape.
–Anthony Brown, Senior IBEW 1245 Assistant Business Manager
Rene Cruz-Martinez contributed to this report. Photos by Nilda Garcia.