A group of the area’s high-ranking, electrical union leaders held a press conference in Forest Park last week to encourage the state legislature to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of the “Smart Grid” bill, last month. Labor leaders want the legislation passed because of the 2,500 jobs that proponents say will be created.
“This bill will help kick-start the economy by putting people to work,” said Bob Pierson, business manager for Illinois Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 9.
“Right now all the [electrical] work is on the East Coast and in California,” he said. “Electricians who are working have to live out of state – too far away to come home for the weekend – and that’s hard on families.”
Senate Bill 1652, or the “Smart Grid Bill,” passed both chambers of the legislature in May, but Quinn vetoed it on Sept. 12. He said it weakened 100-year-old consumer protections and guaranteed a 9-percent yearly rate increase that “will harm consumers for years to come.”
Dean Apple, business manager of IBEW Local 15, in Downers Grove, said that 3,500 of his members work for ComEd. He described the “Smart Grid” bill as “the greatest jobs bill for industry that I’ve seen. It’ll promote education for the highest skill-set necessary and promote the hiring of new members who will receive higher wages.”
The “Smart Grid” legislation is a publicly subsidized high-tech upgrade of the state’s aging electrical infrastructure. It’s been estimated that it would hike the average person’s electrical bill by almost $3.
In 2010, Forest Park was one of nine communities in Chicagoland that participated in a pilot program of the “smart grid” technology. As part of the trial, some residents sampled digital electrical meters that allowed them to monitor how much energy was being used.
Because of this, Mayor Anthony Calderone said, “I remain neutral on the matter.”
But, some suburban officials want legislators to uphold Quinn’s veto. They feel that improvements need to be made to existing infrastructure before ComEd is allowed to raise rates for its “smart grid” technology.
Critics of the “Smart Grid” bill, like Quinn, claim it is cost-inefficient. But some in the private and labor sectors have argued for the bill’s passage, citing its ability to create jobs.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan called the legislation a “pickpocket” bill. She said that electrical companies are already mandated, by law, to improve electrical service, if it’s necessary.
Electric companies are “holding consumers hostage until they get what they want – a guaranteed profit,” said Madigan, back in September.
But to union leaders the bill means, as Pierson put it, “the kind of jobs and stability we desperately seek and deserve.”
If legislators are going to override the veto, they need to do so this fall. And in order to override it, a three-fifths majority is needed in both the House and Senate.
The union leaders said they think they have a good chance.
“I’m gonna pay [the electric bill] just like you’re gonna pay it,” Pierson said. “We have over 700,000 outages a year in Illinois. [The upgrade] is worth $3 a month over 10 years.”
Nick Moroni contributed to this article