The Bee’s recent article, “One reason your electric bill is high: bountiful pay for MID workers” (Page 1A, July 16) argued that the electrical linemen of the Modesto Irrigation District are overpaid.
But the story omitted two basic pieces of information the public needs to make a fair evaluation:
▪ What kind of work MID’s linemen perform, and
▪ What private-sector linemen doing similar work earn in our area.
First, a brief description of the work: linemen are highly trained, highly skilled men and women who do the dangerous work of repairing downed electrical wires and perform maintenance on the grid. They are responsible for ensuring the safety and reliability of your electrical power, every time you flip the switch.
The job requires at least three years of apprenticeship training, similar to law school. Linemen are trained in electrical theory and application, and learn both in the classroom and 40 feet in the air while strapped to an electrical pole.
Once on the job, linemen are often called upon to work in storm conditions, or in triple-digit heat to restore power. It’s not everyone who can respond to a call at 2 a.m., drive (or in some cases, hike) to the site of a downed powerline, climb an electrical pole and perform extremely technical and dangerous work to restore power to a community.
When I say the work is dangerous, I’m not exaggerating. Line work is consistently ranked among the 10 deadliest occupations in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the fatality rate for linemen is 19.2 per 100,000 workers. The fatality rate for the average private-sector job The Bee’s article compares their salaries to? That’s 3.4 per 100,000 workers – a fifth as high.
There is also a nationwide shortage of lineman, which is currently estimated to stand at 15,000. In a labor market defined by the need to attract and retain linemen during a shortage, the Modesto wage is hardly outrageous.
Which brings us to the second set of facts your readers should have: comparative figures on public- and private-sector linemen in our area need to be apples to apples.
The prevailing wage for linemen posted by the state of California is $55.04 an hour – meaning that $55.04 is what the state thinks is fair, and what public projects are required to pay. Linemen working for the federal government in the Valley earn $58.31 an hour. Linemen working for contractors in the Valley earn $54.44 an hour. And linemen working for the investor-owned utility in the Valley earn $56.30 an hour.
So how do MID’s linemen compare? They make $50.79 an hour, about 10 percent less than the prevailing wage established by the state.
Modesto’s public sector linemen are true public servants. They do difficult, dangerous work to keep us safe, keep our lights on, and keep our air conditioners, heaters and equipment humming. They deserve our respect, and at the very least, a fair description of their contributions to our community.
Tom Dalzell is the business manager for , IBEW Local 1245; he wrote this for The Modesto Bee.