By Nate Fairman, Jeremy Abrams and Keith Maddox
San Diego Gas & Electric linemen understand risk.
The women and men of IBEW Local 465 are essential workers who put their lives on the line every day. They climb electrical poles with nothing but a safety belt and steel spikes between them and a 100-foot fall. They wear protective equipment to weld and maintain the safest gas system in the nation. When a fire strikes, or a storm takes down power lines, they are first responders. Utility workers assess risks every day to keep the lights on and the gas flowing for millions of San Diego families.
They are joined by the electrical workers of IBEW 569 — who also understand what it means to take a chance. These electrical workers invested millions in training to build clean energy and put solar on their own buildings before it was popular. Their commitment to greening the economy has been over a decade in the making — building solar, wind and energy storage projects to generate sustainable energy right here at home.
This week, the City Council will begin the process of evaluating whether to allow these workers to continue to build and maintain the infrastructure that powers San Diego — or to play high stakes poker with an out-of-town conglomerate.
There is no question that the city should negotiate and sign a new, long-term franchise agreement with SDG&E. To do anything else is too big a risk — for workers, for the local community and for the environmental investments underway in our region.
Experienced local workers have been instrumental in the successful partnership between SDG&E and the city — a partnership that has existed for more than one hundred years. Their skills and dedication have built what has been recognized as one of the cleanest, safest, and most reliable power grids in the nation.
Since 2001, when only 1% of San Diego’s energy was from renewable energy, SDG&E and local workers have transformed our energy grid. After California passed landmark renewable energy targets, with the support of local workers, SDG&E became the first California utility to reach 33% renewable energy.
Today, roughly 45% of the power SDG&E delivers to homes and businesses comes from renewable sources, which leads all California utilities. There is still much work to be done to accelerate our region’s clean-energy future. This will require dedicated and experienced workers, and an accountable corporate partner.
SDG&E has also been a national leader in clean transportation. Electrifying cars, trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles is particularly critical given transportation now represents roughly 40% of climate pollution in our region.
We must accelerate environmental investments currently well underway at SDG&E. Electric vehicle charging stations, renewable integration infrastructure and energy storage all must be expanded rapidly.
Gambling on an out-of-town power company, with no track record of similar success, jeopardizes our environmental goals. Paying billions of taxpayer dollars to enable the city to run its own grid is extremely risky and does the same.
Both scenarios also put good jobs on the chopping block. Whether it’s a corporation or the city itself, any entity taking over the grid must invest billions of dollars to pay for the infrastructure that SDG&E owns. Will this new entity value their workers or will they claim that in order to submit a competitive bid, they’ll have to cut costs? It’s a roll of the dice but our bet is it lands on the backs of workers.
Why? We’ve seen it time and again. Cutting worker pay and healthcare and importing out-of-state workers is a textbook move. We can’t let that happen.
IBEW members have fought hard to secure contracts that require workers be hired locally. We have fought for contracts that mandate quality wages and healthcare, retirement benefits and ongoing training so that San Diego families and communities can thrive.
Most people have strong opinions about their utility company, whose name is at the top of a monthly bill. Here in San Diego, we have high expectations for reliability and green energy investments. Not only does SDG&E have a strong track record on both, they are the only option that protects quality local jobs in our community.
The view from the top of the electrical pole and the message you can hear in the power lines is pretty clear: the city needs to negotiate a fair franchise agreement with SDG&E. Anything else is a high stakes gamble San Diegans and workers can’t afford to lose.
Nate Fairman is business manager of IBEW Local 465. Jeremy Abrams is business manager of IBEW Local 569. Keith Maddox is executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council.
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