Utilities must partner with unions, focus on diversity for brightest future

Kim Hanemann. (File photos)

Labor unions have been making headlines for months as they push for change amid an evolving technology and economic landscape. These are the most recent efforts in a long history that has led to our country’s adoption of many of the worker protections and fair wage laws we know and value today.

These current events are top of mind as we at Public Service Electric & Gas continue to build on the productive relationships with our trade union partners that we have appreciated over our company’s 120-year history. Our 12,500 employees companywide, many of whom are union employees, are essential for us to power the lives of the 2.3 million electric customers and 1.9 million natural gas customers who rely on us in New Jersey, and those customers in Long Island.

On a personal level, my experience growing up in a union household taught me how indispensable these organizations are for families across our state and how much value they bring to a workforce. Every meal on the table — including Thanksgiving — was funded by a union salary, so I have a deep appreciation for the value of unions.

As the landscape of the utility and energy industry changes and as we work toward a cleaner, more electrified tomorrow, planning is key. At PSE&G, we understand that the changes to the industry will require our workforce — both nonunion and union — to prepare for the jobs of the future. That means our company must make efforts to work toward a just transition to get current and future employees ready for what is to come.

PSE&G recognizes the dedication, skill and expertise of the trades in building and maintaining our energy infrastructure. Trade unions have been key partners in our history, such as during the decade-long transmission work executed after the 2003 Northeast Blackout and the resilience and hardening investments after Superstorm Sandy.

Union workers are part of our utility’s ongoing large-scale and long-term projects. One project where unions have been key partners is our Gas System Modernization Program, which was just approved for an extension to 2025, and has so far helped us cut our methane emissions by 22% from 2018 levels, the equivalent of taking 65,000 cars off the road. We have also worked with unions on our Infrastructure Advancement Program and Energy Strong initiatives, two programs that together invest billions to modernize and maintain our infrastructure and better prepare us for the way people will use energy in the future.

The transition to a cleaner energy future signals the potential for continued investment from our company in ways that will support our union workforce, support our thousands of other employees and help facilitate job growth in the state.

We also must continue to focus on hiring diverse talent that represents the hundreds of varied communities we serve in New Jersey. This focus on diversity enables us to find the best solutions and hear ideas from individuals with different lived experiences and with different perspectives.

At PSE&G, we want to work with our union partners to collaborate on ways we can further foster diversity in their ranks as well. With New Jersey poised to be a majority minority state by the end of the decade and with union membership rates between men and women steadily narrowing, embracing diversity is not just good for the workforce, but also vital for the continued success of our operations. Someone with a different viewpoint may bring a new idea to the table and help find a better and more efficient solution to a problem.

We remain steadfast in our belief that a diverse, highly skilled workforce is indispensable as our company continues to work toward our Powering Progress vision for a future where people use less energy and it’s cleaner, safer and more reliable than ever.

At PSE&G, we aim to continue partnering with labor and collaborating to ensure that we are best positioned to serve the people and communities of New Jersey. Looking ahead, we eagerly anticipate continuing our partnership for the next 120 years and delivering reliable energy solutions and sustainable growth for New Jersey.

Kim Hanemann is president and chief operating officer of Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey’s largest utility company.