Jose Alberto Feria, a U.S. carpenter of 20 years, still vividly remembers the day his co-worker stepped on a wire connected to a power line.
The electrocution left his feet twisted and contorted and him, permanently handicapped. Since then, Feria, an Oakland resident from Mexico City, thought he knew everything about safety when working near power poles and underground utility facilities. But once retired PG&E employee Ron Delucchi started demonstrating different hazards on a live model, Feria along with 8 other day laborers, listened like their lives depended on it. Their lives actually do depend on it.
Delucchi’s demonstration was part of PG&E’s 811 Call Before you Dig workshop coordinated by New America Media and held at the Multicultural Institute in Berkeley last month. 811 is the phone number you call before digging to avoid hitting underground utility lines. There are millions of miles of buried utilities beneath the surface of the earth that are vital to everyday living like water, electricity and natural gas. The one-hour presentation taught day laborers and farm workers all they need to know to be safe near power sources on job sites.
“I’m fortunate to be a union worker because larger contractors teach us safety when we start a job,” said Feria. “But I know many day laborers who work for smaller contractors and they may not always get trained before they start.”
The lack of training is the reason New America Media (NAM) teamed up with PG&E. As an organization committed to getting vital information to ethnic media audiences for 15 years, NAM collaborating with a large company committed to diversity and safety was a natural fit.
“Safety is a top priority to PG&E - that’s why we have a longstanding relationship with them,” said Sandy Close, Executive Director of NAM. “And this kind of information is directly related to the on-the-job safety of the day laborer.”
Close said that PG&E feels a sense of responsibility to get the word out and NAM is equally committed to that goal. According to Close, similar efforts are done mostly through community colleges and other workshops but those are more often for organizers. They learned that word of mouth is most valuable in the day laborer community. The workers who need this vital info aren’t going to get it through a pamphlet or on social media.
Josue Revolorio Illescas is director of the Day Laborer Program at the Multicultural Institute, a non-profit organization that provides a variety of services including housing assistance, job placement, immigration help and hot meals. On the day of the workshop, Illescas hit the streets of Berkeley to recruit workers to attend the training.
”We do what we can here to help this special community of workers,” said Illescas. “Our mission in the Day Laborers program is to see these men go from ‘isolation to prosperity to participation.”
And participate they did. The intimate group of 9 men were provided lunch and asked to complete a knowledge-based survey. Then they sat focused on Delucchi, who gave a presentation reflecting his 37 years of experience as a PG&E employee. In a hands-on presentation, Delucchi educated by “show and tell”, demonstrating the dangerous scenarios and the proper safety protocols. Evelyn Escalera, PG&E representative for Integrated Multicultural Communications, translated the training in Spanish.
The 811 Call Before You Dig workshop is available to any organization free of charge. Contact PG&E or for further information.
Feria admitted he learned a lot and would highly recommend the workshop to those in his field or anyone who might have to dig or do anything around wires. Witnessing the accident of his co-worker has given Feria a clear appreciation for the safety training.
“It was horrible to see,” said Feria. “If only my co-worker was more careful and knew what to look for, he’d still be walking and working like me.”