JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A new utility workers protection law, passed in Missouri thanks to a staunch unionist in the legislature and signed in mid-September by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, could become a model for other such legislation nationally.
As a result of efforts by retiring state Sen. Tim Green (D) and an aggressive three-year campaign by the Missouri State Utility Workers Conference (MSUWC) and utility workers' locals statewide, Missouri utility workers will now have the same strong protections against assault as those enjoyed by police, Fire Fighters, and road construction crews.
The campaign followed a series of articles in the St. Louis Labor Tribune exposing the hazards of assault and injury on the job that utility workers face.
Those hazards particularly hit home in Gladstone, Mo., a Kansas City suburb. Former convict Bryan Middlemas, 35, was charged with fatally beating AT& T technician Kevin Mashburn with a crowbar around 2:30 a.m., on Sept. 19, after Mashburn did not hand over his wallet while on a service call at an apartment complex.
Middlemas was arrested Sept. 28. On Oct. 1, on Middlemas' behalf, a Clay County judge entered a not guilty plea in an initial hearing. Middlemas was held on a $1 million bond on three charges, including first-degree murder.
The new law would not cover a case like that, but it provides for stiff felony penalties - including jail time - for assaults on gas, heat, water, steam, telecom, sewer, water and other utility workers. Until now, assaults against utility workers were misdemeanors.
"As a result of what we've done, utility workers locals across the country have been calling and asking for copies of this, and information about how it was done," Mike Walter, MSUWC president and IBEW Local 1459 business manager, told the Labor Tribune. "Passage of this law created a lot of excitement across the country and will, eventually, create safer conditions for utility workers everywhere."
While utility workers have a strong safety culture and training, he added, it was in the past few years that the issue of public abuse and threats to the workers came to the forefront and became a concern of utility workers statewide.
Many state utilities, led by Ameren of St. Louis, also supported the new law. "We were impressed with the leadership of our unions on this issue and pleased to work alongside them" to enhance safety, said Warren Wood, the utility's vice president.
(The St. Louis Labor Tribune provided material for this story.)