New York, NY – James Shillitto, President, UWUA Local 1-2 came up in the ranks of his profession, and his extensive experience has been a boon to his members. He was a utility worker for 45 years, 30 years at Con Edison and 15 as a full-time Local 1-2 officer. He started as meter reader in the Bronx in 1978, then worked 15 years with Con Ed as a troubleshooter Lineman in Queens, NY. He was a shop steward, executive board member and he became a full time officer in 2018. He became President in 2019 after serving as Jim Slevin’s VP for four years. He is a graduate of the Cornell Labor Studies Program.
The jobs that his members have cover a wide range of skills in the production and maintenance of the Electric, Gas, Steam, and Water utility business. They also include power plant Production and Maintenance, Call Centers, underground splicing, overhead line work, tree trimming, gas line maintenance and water service maintenance.
LaborPress found out more about what Shillitto sees for his members in the future, and how he ties the importance of clean energy to the necessity of keeping good, high-paying jobs in the Local.
LP: What are some of the most important changes that are coming to your industry, and how will that affect your members?
JS: Strategies for the future are, continuing to protect my members’ jobs in the move to a cleaner energy power production future. I am very focused on the transition to clean energy production which is required by the NY State CLCPA. We must not leave behind the workers in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.
LP: What are some specific projects you and the Local are working on in this vein?
JS: Local 1-2 is working with Rise Power and Light (owners of Ravenswood) to transition the workers at the plant to the new power source of offshore wind. We have a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to train the workers. We are partnering with them on a bid for a training grant from NYSERDA (New York State Research and Development Authority). All of this is connected to their bid to build an offshore wind farm as well as any other renewable energy production at the site such as battery storage, thermal energy, etc.
LP: How are your members involved in the energy sector, and what changes are coming?
JS: Local 1-2 represents workers in all phases of the energy sector. We represent the workers at Con Edison, NYPA (New York Power Authority), Eastern Generation, NAES, as well as Asplundh Tree (a provider of environmentally sustainable vegetation management), Veola Water and many others. The move to renewables will affect all of them in various ways. All of the transmission and distribution systems will need to be upgraded to accept the new energy sources which will require my members to do the work to upgrade and learn new energy systems.
LP: What has been your own recent experience in the field, and what are your thoughts about the transitions?
JS: I have been a member of the Climate Action Council’s Just Transition Group. I am a board member of the Climate Jobs NY group, I have spoken before the NY State Assembly and Senate in hearings on renewable energy. I support utility companies being able to get into renewable energy production. I am on the board of the National Offshore Wind Training Center. I have recently traveled to Denmark with Cornell Climate Institute to see how Offshore Wind is utilized in Europe and being prepared to enter the U.S. market. The trip showed me that we will be moving in the right direction in renewable energy but it also showed me that we will still need to have use for other types of energy production such as Natural Gas available for the times that wind or solar are not able to provide all that our grid requires. On that trip members of NYS Senate and Assembly were present and it was good to be able to share the vision of a cleaner energy future but learn that we need to keep our current energy systems available with upgrades to improve their efficiency. The technology is improving but still has a way to go. We need to keep our minds open and not abandon the things that keep us powered now or the workers who make it all happen.