Several dozen IBEW utility members have been sequestered at their work sites in California and New York since early April to protect critical power infrastructure and personnel from the threat of COVID-19.
The IBEW has also signed agreements with dozens more utility companies across the U.S. and Canada, setting the terms for housing the men and women who operate the power grid and run generation plants onsite for shifts lasting as long as four weeks. "There are some jobs that are essential and can be done from home, some that are essential and can't, and then there are some jobs that are so specialized, the number of people who can do them so limited, and their job duties so crucial, that they need special protection," said Utility Department Director Donnie Colston.
It is not the first-time utility workers have sheltered in place. Only so many people can run nuclear or hydroelectric plants or coordinate the operations of the power grid. When hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, or fires threaten to limit access to hydro plants hidden in the mountains of Northern California, provisions have been made for IBEW members to stay on site for a limited time until the crisis has passed. In some ways the pandemic is just another natural disaster where the power must stay on and the safest place for the people who can do that is right next to machines. The workers currently sequestered in New York come from Syracuse Local 97, Johnson City Local 10, Niagara Falls Local 2104 and Massena Local 2032, said Third District International Representative Julie Cosenza.