At the intersection of La Rue and South Virginia on the south side of Reno’s midtown district, NV Energy Gas Ops Working Foreman Mark Hicks and his crew were busying offsetting a gas main.
“Our gas main is in the way of a storm drain that they’re running through, so we’re going to lower the pipe so they can run their storm drain over the top of us,” said Hicks, a five-year member of IBEW 1245. “We’ll dig up the storm drain to de-pool … and then we’ll weld plots on the pipe. Then we tap the plots, stop the flow of gas, cut the pipe out of the way, and weld 90s on to lower the pipe down back to the hole.”
This 10-foot section of pipe is part of a much larger project that NV Energy’s gas ops team has been working on since September. It’s relatively commonplace work for the crew, but on this particular day, the crew had to contend with a thick blanket of snow on the ground, adding additional challenges to the tough, rocky terrain they were digging in.
“The weather’s getting pretty tricky,” added Hicks. “It’s winter time, so the snow and ice are making it slippery.”
Reno averages about 22 inches of snow annually, so the six inches of snowfall that hit the area the day before was definitely a bit more than what NV Energy crews are accustomed to working in. But they didn’t allow the wintery weather to get in the way of them completing the job in a safe and timely fashion.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of town, another NV Energy gas crew was working to remove old valves and couplings that are no longer up to snuff.
“We’ve got to tap in to the existing pipe in order to stop off the flow all the way around, so we can have a safe work area in the middle, where we’re doing our work,” said Gas Division Foreman Scott Kohlman, a 15-year member of IBEW 1245. “And then we bypass … so no customers lose their gas service. Then I replace the valve, or we cut the valve out and we put this pipe in there.”
NV Energy is about half-way through this expansive, years-long upgrade, and the gas team completes about a dozen of these change-outs per month, but with half a foot of snow on the ground, everything becomes a bit trickier, and time is of the essence.
“We spread some ice melt around the job site and we’re getting her done because we don’t want this hole to fill up with water,” Kohlman said.
While the IBEW 1245 members who work on the gas side of NV Energy may be assigned to all sorts of different tasks, they share a common bond through their union brotherhood. Since Nevada is a so-called “right to work” state, the employees are not required to pay union fees, but the majority of them choose to voluntarily maintain their membership with IBEW 1245 because they value the protections and benefits that the union has fought to secure for them. In fact, living in a right to work state has caused many of the members to have an even greater appreciation for the union.
“We’re all union members here. We like the union because they stand up for us, and they help us get extra little incentives [from the employer] like meals and travel time and whatnot,” said Kohlman. “I like working here better than my last job [which was non-union], because the employer can’t walk all over you when you’re in the union.”
Hicks expressed a similar sentiment.
“I wasn’t in the union before I came here. I didn’t have retirement, I didn’t have anything like that,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot of benefits to [union representation]. We feel comfortable, and that’s something I didn’t have on the outside. And we’ve got a bunch of good people like [Business Rep Adam Weber], and I feel like they have our back.”
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
Photos by John Storey