[Reprinted from the March-April 2015 issue of Public Power magazine.]
Time magazine recognized “The Ebola Fighters” as its 2014 Person of the Year — “for being willing to stand and fight so the rest of the world could sleep at night; for tireless acts of courage and mercy…; for risking, for persisting, for sacrificing and saving,” as described by Nancy Gibbs in a December 2014 article.
Business and citizen associations and other volunteer organizations in every community organize events to honor their first responders. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the firefighters and police officers who saved lives were rightly honored as heroes.
The healthcare and aid workers who fought Ebola and the first responders who save lives every day — all at tremendous risk to themselves — are richly deserving of our gratitude and appreciation. But so are the electric utility lineworkers who often work in the most hazardous conditions to ensure that the lights stay on and that our lives are safe and comfortable.
Public power lineworkers in particular distinguish themselves with the deepest commitment to the communities they live and work in. Their story is the story of public power.
But lineworkers may never make it to the cover of Time. Or be the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster. Or, on a more modest scale, even be recognized by their local newspapers — or have customers and neighbors stop to thank them for all they do.
If lineworkers are not celebrated as the heroes they are, perhaps we — the utilities that employ them and associations that represent them — need to do more to tell their stories of courage and commitment.
I’m glad that many public power utilities organize a Lineworker Appreciation Day. It’s wonderful that we actually have an International Lineman Museum and Hall of Fame, in Shelby, North Carolina. And I have to give a shout-out to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, which has a magnificent bronze statue of a lineworker in its lobby.
The article “We Want You to Be a Lineworker” in this issue of Public Power magazine describes the skills of lineworkers and emphasizes a focus on safety. The American Public Power Association’s annual Public Power Lineworkers Rodeo, which the Sacramento Municipal Utility District will host in May, is in its 15th year. The rodeo allows lineworkers from across the country to showcase their skills in a safe environment and engage in friendly competition.
Public power needs to emphasize the skills and strengths of our lineworkers. We need to tell their story, and recruit new hires reflective of their communities to step into the shoes of those lineworkers who will soon be retiring. We have a more important, and unique, story to tell about public power lineworkers. It’s the story of their inherent values and commitment to the community. In fact, the lineworkers’ values represent the essence of public power.
Public power lineworkers are typically part of the community they work in. They’ve often gone to school right in the community. They worship in the community, they coach baseball, they shop at the local grocery store, and they attend the PTA and citizens’ association meetings. Some even pass on the love for the profession down through the generations.
All of which means the lineworkers know the community better than Google Maps ever will — especially useful in case of outages — and care about the people in a way that no contract worker or outsider can.
Every public power utility should introduce their lineworker superheroes to customers. Tell their everyday stories of courage, hard work, and love for community in bill stuffers and newsletters; pitches to the local newspaper and TV station; and on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Doing so will make customers more aware of the benefits of being served by a public power utility.
In 2014, APPA introduced Captain Public Power, a comic-book-style, tongue-in-cheek mascot to help recognize and share the heroism of our lineworkers, and as proof that it does not take an expensive campaign or a Super Bowl commercial to make public power better known. It just takes telling our story, in creative and engaging ways.
And maybe one day, public power lineworkers will be a major cover story, and not just in Public Power magazine.
We invite your video submissions for the Celebrate a Lineworker video campaign. Send us a video featuring your electric utility lineworkers and highlighting their contributions. For more information on participating, go to the campaign webpage.