Brushing aside unionists, lawmakers, FCC OKs plan CWA says could make work on telecom poles dangerous

WASHINGTON—Brushing aside rafts of complaints from individual workers, their union and a group of lawmakers, the Republican-named majority on the Federal Communications Commission approved a plan the Communications Workers say could make work on telecom poles dangerous.


The 3-1 vote, engineered by Trump-named FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former top counsel for a telecom company, also opens the way for untrained, non-union workers to affix anything and everything to the poles, CWA says.


“Despite the overwhelming opposition to the proposal from the people who know the most about the problems it would create, the Republican-controlled FCC voted to approve the one-touch, make-ready (OTMR) plan,” CWA said after the Aug. 2 ruling.


Pai claimed OTMR would “speed access to utility poles to promote broadband and 5G wireless service deployment,” commission spokesman Mark Wigfield said. “Access to poles must be swift, predictable and affordable.” Pai also claimed it would cut costs.


The FCC said “the new attacher” will be able to “move existing attachments and perform all other work required to make the pole ready for a new attachment. OTMR speeds and reduces the cost of broadband deployment by allowing the party with the strongest incentive — the new attacher — to prepare the pole quickly, rather than spreading the work across multiple parties.”


Pai said new attachers could tack on $12.6 billion worth of fiber optic cables to poles. The FCC’s also said it would override state and local bans on “that inhibit” new broadband infrastructure or “rebuilding or restoration of broadband infrastructure” after a disaster.


”OTMR endangers workers and could send CWA members╒ work — done by skilled employees who know the equipment and have extensive training — to unskilled, untrained, low-wage contractors,” the union said. It marshalled union members, broadband advocates and the public to file protests with the agency, in vain.


“A nationwide OTMR policy would allow companies that want to add equipment to a utility pole to move existing equipment. A local OTMR ordinance in Louisville, Kent., has been disastrous, with dangerous mistakes made by contractors. Pole attachment work is complex, and if done incorrectly, can cause electrocution or poles to fall,” for example.


One public commenter, an AT&T facility technician, a CWA member in nearby Brandenburg, “reveals a firsthand account from a location where the OTMR policy has already been put into place,” the union noted.


“I am a facility technician for AT&T. Our metro council in Louisville passed an OTMR ordinance locally. I have already seen questionable and unsafe attachments to our poles.”


“I work on these lines every day. Imagine putting a ladder up 20 feet in the air on a wire that has not been secured properly. It can only end badly.”


“Our job is dangerous enough without adding other untrained unregulated hands to the equation. I would ask you consider all of these concerns before making a decision that may get someone seriously injured, or worse,” he warned. Others among the 1,300 comments were similar.


“In addition to the serious safety risks, the proposal also would invalidate sections of private contracts negotiated by CWA and its members╒ employers, affecting thousands of workers,” the union said.


Besides the individual comments, CWA District 3 Vice President Richard Honeycutt delivered a 9,600-signature petition against Pai’s plan to the agency the day before the decision. Honeycutt and CWA Local 3310 member Chad Melton also met with Pai, Commissioner Brendan Carr and staff from the offices of the agency’s two other commissioners about problems with OTMR.


“OTMR risks public and worker safety,” said Honeycutt afterwards. “And it gives our work — work with good, family-supporting wages and benefits — to unskilled, untrained low-wage contractors. We’ve been actively fighting OTMR policies across the South and now we’re making our voices heard at the FCC.”

Source: PAI

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