Friday, September 4, 2015
With the hurricane season upon us, it's only a matter of time before we really start concentrating on the skills, working conditions and outcomes of our local and regional utility workers. With the legislative session for the New York State Assembly and Senate concluded their was a lot of attention given to rent control bills, tax cap legislation, and even sensationalism around convicts running around in the woods; but sadly our state lawmakers failed to pass an important piece of legislation that would protect hundreds of utility workers who put themselves in harms' way every day.
The bill, called the utility worker assault bill, was introduced by Senators Larkin and Assemblyman Moyer. Assembly Bill 4738 amends the penal law in relation to evaluating an assault of the utility worker to a class D felony assault in the 2nd degree. Many utility workers, most specifically collections and meter readers, have become increasingly victims of anger and aggression. With utility workers servicing customers in the field reading meters and making repairs, they are vulnerable to violent crime because they work outdoors at all hours of the night.
Recently in New York City, Gerald Mituniewicz, a member of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, an employee at Con-Ed, was fatally shot in his van while he finished up paperwork at the end of his shift. This isn't the first time a Utility Worker was killed doing their job. In 1995, two Con Ed workers were shot while doing routine maintenance on electrical lines in Queens. One of the electrical workers was blinded by the shooting while the other suffered injuries when grazed by a bullet. This attack was the fourth shooting in the past five years. That situation inspired the unions representing these workers to craft this legislation.
New York is not the first to have laws like this on the books. New Jersey passed this legislation in 2004 so if New Jersey has it then why can't the Empire State. Across New York State there are tens of thousands of utility company employees that perform field collections that the Utility Worker Assault bill would protect.
Currently, it is a felony to cause injury to peace officers, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical workers and trash collectors with the intent to prevent them from performing their duties. This bill would reclassify assaults on utility workers from misdemeanors to felonies.
Passing the Utility Worker Assault bill will not bring Gerald Mituniewicz back and it will not make their families whole, but if this bill prevents curtails any future acts of aggression against utility workers and if it saves just one life then it is worth the time and energy to put this law onto the books.