CFL News
October 12, 2011

Organized Labor Calls for Override of Governor’s Smart Grid Veto

Union representatives stress the need for passage of Senate Bill 1652 to create jobs, bring out-of-state workers back to Illinois

Forest Park, Ill.—Leaders representing more than 25,000 local union members joined together today in support of the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (Senate Bill 1652), and called on the General Assembly to override Governor Quinn’s veto in the upcoming legislative session. In doing so, they stressed the positive effect the legislation would have on Illinois’ labor force at a time when job creation continues to be the state’s top priority.

Leaders from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Locals 9, 15, 134 and 196 gathered at the Local 9 Training Facility in Forest Park, which is home to a three-year apprenticeship program for workers in the electric utility industry.  

Senate Bill 1652 would invest $2.6 billion to modernize and strengthen Illinois’ electric grid, and would create approximately 2,500 jobs at the height of the project. Implementing smart grid technology requires adding jobs at companies that manufacture or install the basic building blocks of an electric grid, such as cable and switching systems, overhead or underground lines, transformers and poles. The legislation passed both chambers of the General Assembly in May, but was vetoed by Governor Quinn in September. In order to become law, the bill requires further legislative action this fall.

“In Illinois, we have a shared goal of creating jobs,” said Dean Apple, president and business manager of IBEW Local 15 in Downers Grove. “It’s hard to understand why we would say no to family-supporting jobs at a time when our workforce is hurting. The General Assembly has a big opportunity to get Illinois back on track by making the Smart Grid bill law.”

Many local union members have sought work across state borders because of their difficulty finding work in Illinois, noted the labor officials, explaining that Senate Bill 1652 will create new jobs and bring workers back to Illinois.

“The past few years have been extremely challenging for our members,” said Bob Pierson, business manager of IBEW Local 9 in Hillside. “Many of our skilled workers have had to look for work in neighboring states because the jobs just aren’t here, which oftentimes means living away from their families for extended periods of time. Our members want nothing more than an opportunity to work here in Illinois – their home state – and this bill mandates the kind of jobs and stability we desperately seek and deserve.”

Stability and a consistent commitment to jobs is vital to sustain a homegrown, skilled workforce in a highly demanding trade such as line work, noted Eric Patrick, business manager of Local 196 in Batavia.

“In 2007, Local 196 had more than 100 apprentices participating in three different training programs,” Patrick said. “Today, we have a total of 38. Without the promise of work we simply can’t bring on apprentices to start learning the trade.”

Beyond job creation, Senate Bill 1652 would also improve system reliability that will reduce the number and duration of power outages. In addition to strengthening the existing system through investments in underground cable and pole replacement, Senate Bill 1652 will call for the implementation of new digital smart grid technology. This combination would lead to an estimated 700,000 fewer outages each year.

“Our members work on the front line and recognize the need for modernization,” Apple said. “A stronger grid will strengthen its reliability. Illinois benefits from having a skilled workforce that is trained for the future and we’re ready to get to work.”