Many, many moons ago something happened that changed my perspective as a Union Journeyman lineman forever. To keep this short, I won’t go into all of the details of the political environment that led up to the event, but will focus on what I determined to be the solution.
Sadly, the event cost a young apprentice his life, and took an arm from the journeyman, not to mention the emotional suffering that it caused and still causes them and the families of all involved. God bless them all. A good friend of mine was dispatched to the scene and performed the rescue. With firefighters trying to keep him on the ground, he pushed through to rescue his Union brother who had been agonizing on the pole for way too long. Then he had to do the worst job that could ever be asked of a journeyman.
I spent the majority of that night looking for someone to blame. I was not only saddened, I was angry! The thoughts going through my head were things like: That contractor shouldn’t have bid that work so cheap. The utility shouldn’t have accepted a bid that was so cheap and out of line. The Union should be policing the new contractors coming into the area. The foreman should have…, the journeyman should have…, etc. etc.
There weren’t enough fingers on my hands to point at all of the problems that led up to the accident that took place. But as much as I hated to admit it, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that ultimately it was the fault of all of the journeyman lineman that had come before.
As journeyman, we have the opportunity to surround ourselves with the best in the business. We are lucky enough to train and evaluate nearly everyone who comes into our trade. By the nature of humans, those guys who were never cut out to do the work will quickly go into management, safety, dispatch, training or some other related field. They will do this long before they have ever learned the in’s and out’s of the trade. Back in the day, those positions were reserved for seasoned journeyman.
The real issue is that as Journeyman we need to realize these apprentices are the future of this trade. It is way too easy to just send a bad apprentice down the line and let him be somebody else’s problem. It is very difficult to look a man in the eyes, after giving him your best training, and tell him he simply isn’t cut out for the trade. That is tough. But that is ultimately how we are going to fix the problem.
If we as journeyman only allow those with whom we deem worthy of our regard to pass those sacred halls of the IBEW, then when guys decide to take on a new challenge such as Foreman, General Foreman, Superintendent, Construction Manager, Safety Coordinator, or any of the various Union positions, it could only be filled by qualified people, because there wouldn’t be many other options.
Every time we turn a blind eye to an apprentice we don’t feel is qualified, we open a door to let the unqualified lead the qualified. The best begets the best. It is our job to train and protect this trade. It is our future, and sadly, when we let things slide, there is the potential for a brother to pay the ultimate price.
After beating myself up all night, I realized that the person to point the finger at, was all the journeyman who had come before. We are the only people who could have prevented that accident. God Bless those who have passed, and please work safe. Always listen to your gut!