Assaulting a utility worker who is performing an “essential service” would become a class-D felony under a bill re-introduced in the State Legislature Tuesday.
The bill, supported by PSEG Long Island and leaders of its unionized work force, would put utility workers on the same footing as police, medical, crossing guards and other emergency personnel.
At present, assaulting a utility worker on the job is classified as a second-degree misdemeanor, according to Patrick Guidice, senior business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1049, who was in Albany Tuesday advocating for the measure. “We see it as a safety issue,” he said.
Guidice said the new language would make assaulting a utility worker punishable by three to seven years in prison, compared with the current law’s penaly of about one year.
The legislation would apply to employees of “any entity governed by the public service law in the course of performing an essential service.” While LIPA and PSEG aren’t under full Public Service Commission jurisdiction, they are subject to the public service law, Guidice said.
Jeff Weir, a PSEG Long Island spokesman, called the legislation “a priorty” for the company. He said since PSEG took over in January 2014 to this March there were 64 incidents in which its workers were assaulted, threatened with assault or harassed. He didn’t have a specific breakdown for each or say how many resulted in arrests.
PSEG Long Island president Dave Daly said the company “stands in solidarity with our partners in labor as we work together for the passage of this important legislation.”
The bill, which has a companion Senate version, was sponsored by Assemb. Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights), whose office didn’t return messages seeking comment. Similar legislation in the prior two legislative sessions failed to pass the full Assembly, but Guidice said he’s hopeful it will this year.
Advocates say the bill is needed because utility workers in the field during storm restoration, bill collection and other functions are “highly susceptible to workplace violence.”
Don Daley, business manager for Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, representing some 1,400 unionized PSEG workers, said a statement the bill would bring New York utility workers the same protections as those in around half the utilities across the nation. “Workplace violence should not be part of the job,” he said.