By ED FINKELSTEIN
POW, POW, POW!
At 2:30 a.m., on the morning of Feb. 15, three gunshots ring out as Ameren UE troubleman Skip Kilman is responding to an electrical outage call in Jennings.
His truck door glass shatters and by the grace of God, Kilman escapes being killed by a mere inches as the truck’s forward motion moves the truck slightly forward of where a bullet hits the doorframe and enters the side of Kilman’s seat back. Had it been split seconds earlier, the shot would have hit the side of Kilman’s head, and two grown children would be without a dad, and a grieving wife would suffer the trauma of losing her life partner.
It turns out the police believe the shooter(s) were deliberately trying to kill someone, that this was not just a random “accident” but a deliberate attempt by someone who set out to kill, Kilman told the Labor Tribune.
“When I heard the first ‘thud’ I thought it might have been a brick or a rock. People are throwing things at us all the time. But when my widow shattered, I realized I had to get the heck out of there, quick!” Kilman said.
And the lives of utility workers responding to emergencies who could well be set up for an ambush or confronted by angry residents about to have their utilities cut off are not important enough to be given the same protection under the law as police, fire fighters and road workers? Some legislators think so.
RECTIFY THE LAW
That’s the miscarriage that House Bill 1415 is attempting to rectify in the current session of the Missouri Legislature, said IBEW Local 1455 Business Manager Mike Walter, who also serves as president of the Missouri State Utilities Workers Conference, the group that introduced the proposed legislative modification last year and again this year. Kilman is a 34-year member of Local 1455, a 28-year employee of Ameren UE.
The bill, which passed out of committee with a one-vote majority “do pass” recommendation before the House adjourned for its spring break, seeks to provide utility and cable workers with the same protections as police, fire fighters construction zone workers, probation and parole officers and emergency personnel. Under that law, violators face a host of penalties up to and including a Class A felony. Under current law, someone threatening a utility worker faces only a misdemeanor charge.
“When it was over and I realized what happened, I was pretty upset,” Kilman said. “I sure feel lucky.” He added that his wife Mary had just had surgery that day and that someone had called her. “She was, understandably, quite upset.
LIFE NOT AS VALUABLE?
The issue, it appears, is whether or not our lawmakers consider one life as important as another!
Representative Rod Schad (R-Lake Ozarks), the bill’s sponsor, told the Labor Tribune, “The opposition feels utility workers are not as valued as police officers. That’s nonsense. They provide a crucial service and they are coming under attack. They deserve the same protections.”
On the other hand, Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), one of the bill’s opponents, said that including utility workers would be “cheapening the law” or, put another way, “deluding the pool of people (the law covers) will reduce the protection for everyone.”
Noting that her father was an Ameren Missouri lineman, she told the Labor Tribune, “I don’t believe it’s a major problem,” adding that if utility workers were included in this law, which has stiff penalties, “they (the utility worker) might be more emboldened (to confront a homeowner) if they have that (protection).” She said that a new law would be more appropriate than simply including them in the current law.
HAVING A BAD DAY?
Kilman’s case, while an extreme example, is not unusual. Utility workers have been shot at, threatened with their lives and physically attacked.
“I’ve had people throw rocks at me, threaten to kick my butt, and been cussed out with words I’ve never heard before,” said Troubleman Dee Edwards, a 24-year member of IBEW 1439.
“When you’re at their home, about to turn off their utilities that they depend on to live, and on top of that you don’t know if they’re having a bad day for any number of reasons, our being there can create a crisis,” he noted.
“You have to use some common sense; you don’t want to make the situation any worse, but we’re there to do a job. We don’t wear our pride on our shoulder, we don’t act macho, we’re just trying to do our job.”
In one case, a pole was leaning against a home. When Edwards arrived and saw the situation, he told the homeowner that he couldn’t deal with a down pole, that he would report the situation and someone else would be out to resolve the issue. “He blocked me, wouldn’t let me get out. I had to call my supervisor who then called the police.”
He noted another case where two troublemen were held up at gunpoint, and another troubleman responding to a call saw a bunch of guys “meandering around” where he was supposed to stop and his basic human instincts kicked in and he left.
The House of Representative reconvened on Monday from its spring break. The fate of the bill is yet to be determined; it is not yet on the House calendar for consideration. A call to your legislator demanding action could change that.