USIC Workers Shine a Spotlight on Dangerous Conditions And Call for Codifying Fair Pay, Benefits, and Training for Utility Workers

New York, NY (December 16, 2019) – Underground safety workers testified Monday before the New York City Council Transportation Committee in favor of legislation to codify fair scheduling requirements and safety training for utility workers.

The legislation, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, was prompted by unsafe and unfair working conditions facing workers for the United States Infrastructure Company (USIC), a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation that performs underground utility location and damage prevention services for utility companies including Con Edison and National Grid. Intro 946-A would prohibit abusive “on-call” scheduling for utility workers and require advance notice of work schedules. Intro 947 would require certification of safety training for these workers before the City provides street permits.  

“Unstable schedules, uncompensated on-call time, and unfair conditions put these utility workers and the public safety of New Yorkers at risk,” said Council Member Lander. “Utility safety workers perform essential functions for our neighborhoods and cannot do their jobs well when they suffer from lack of sleep, disruptions in the time-off with family, insufficient pay, and inadequate training.”

USIC workers, who are contracted by utility companies National Grid and Con Edison, perform essential work that prevents street drilling from disrupting water lines, electricity, and dangerous gas line explosions. They are often required to be on call for 24-hours at a time, even though the overwhelming majority of their work is in routine, non-emergency situations, and they receive insufficient training, dynamics that are both harmful to worker’s lives and to public safety.

“On-call scheduling and the disrupted sleep that comes with it puts our safety at risk. It also puts the public at risk,” said Xavier Maynard, a USIC worker and member of Communications Workers of America Local 1101. “We go to great lengths to perform our jobs safely, but all it takes is one misstep due to exhaustion or inadequate training for tragedy to occur. Passing Intro 946 and 947 is hugely important in making our jobs and our city safer.”

As a result of poor conditions and low pay at USIC, workers joined the Communications Workers of American Local 1101 in 2017. At the time, workers were earning wages that were barely above the minimum wage, and far below comparable wages for other workers involved in street-level utility work. The City Council held a hearing in 2017 examining the poorly-paid, dangerous and unfair working conditions, and the lack of adequate safety training, urging USIC to improve their employment and safety practices, and pushing Con Edison and National Grid to play a constructive role as well. 

After prolonged negotiation and an effort by USIC to decertify the union, a contract between the Communications Workers of American and USIC raised pay for workers and ended the company’s long-standing requirement for employees to be “on call,” available to report to work within two hours, without any additional compensation for up to 24-hours including on weekends and overnight. Intro 946-A would prohibit this practice for all companies that employ utility workers and expand workers’ rights to stable, predictable schedules. Intro 947-A would insure that workers receive adequate safety training. At present, there is no requirement for underground utility location workers to receive such training, even though their work is essential for public safety.

“Utility safety workers provide an essential service to the City of New York. We need to make sure that these workers have the protections they need to best do their job and serve the City. I strongly urge the Committee to pass Intro 946 and 947 and safeguard the welfare of these workers and all New Yorkers,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President, Communications Workers of America District 1.

The move to require fair scheduling for utility workers comes as cities, including New York, have increasingly moved to pass legislation ensuring more stable and predictable schedules for workers. In 2017, the New York City Council passed Fair Workweek legislation for fast food and retail workers, a measure sponsored by Council Member Lander, that now requires advance notice for schedules and prohibits back-to-back shifts without sufficient time for rest. New York City has also led the way in enforcing fair scheduling laws against violators; most recently filing suit against Chipotle for denying its workers’ rights under the City’s Fair Workweek laws.