Everyday Heroes at Groton Utilities Employees Keep the Power On

When Tropical Storm Isaias slammed into Connecticut Aug. 4, causing massive and prolonged outages, the people of Groton had a rapid return to normalcy that was foreign to hundreds of thousands of state residents.

How rapid? Roughly 90 percent of Groton was back on line by 11:30 p.m., less than 8 hours after the storm threw its knockout punch.

That quick response is a source of pride for Council 4 union members Jeremy Doucette, Jessica Pavent and Rick Stevens, all of whom are employed by Groton Utilities, a municipally owned and operated utility serving thousands of consumers in Groton, Bozrah and Lebanon.

For Doucette, a journeyman linesperson and president of Local 1303-007, there is a dramatic contrast between a not-for-profit utility and publicly traded corporations like Eversource and United Illuminating.

“You’re more connected to the work and to the community than if you worked for an investor-owned utility. Unfortunately, they’re no longer there to serve customers anymore,” said Doucette, who has worked at Groton Utilities for 5 years and has 11 years of experience in the field.

The Local 1303-007 bargaining unit represents 32 people, including line personnel, meter technicians, electric and water project managers and more.

Stevens, who is president of the AFSCME Local 818 supervisory unit at Groton Utilities, points to a shared sense of mission among all GU employees, whether they work inside or out.

“I am proud of all the workers in [our unions] at Groton Utilities. I’m passionate about what I do and all the people I work with are just as dedicated,” said Stevens, who manages water and wastewater operations.

Groton is one of five towns that operate their own utilities. The others are Norwich, Norwalk, Wallingford and the borough of Jewett City in Griswold. (Council 4 also represents employees at Norwich Public Utilities and Norwalk’s Third Taxing District.)

Pavent is president of AFSCME Local 1303-135, a 15-person bargaining unit that includes customer service representatives, meter readers and custodians. She, too, feels there is a different vibe at her workplace compared to her previous employer, AT&T, where she worked for 20 years (also in a unionized position).

“It’s nice to work for a small company. I love my job and I love helping people,” Pavent, a lead customer service representative, said.

Stevens has been working at GU for 30 years; his four fellow supervisors each have at least 20 of service to the company. Stevens’s responsibilities include overseeing the operation of the treatment plant, pump stations and laboratories.

Regulatory compliance is a major responsibility, as Stevens and his colleagues answer to regulators, state agencies such as the Department of Public Health and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and customers about the quality of drinking water and wastewater.

“People want to know: ‘Is my water safe? Why is my plumbing not working?’ It’s our job to answer every call and comply with every regulation,” he said.

The majority of Local 1303-135 members directly assist customers, from questions and complaints about billing, to setting up connection services when people move or helping customers make payment arrangements,

Pavent spends a great deal of time reaching out to customers who are in danger of losing service because they are behind on their payments. Many times, that intervention has enabled customers to set up a payment arrangement plan that avoids having their power shut off.

“I like to be proactive and helpful,” Pavent said. “I will do my best to help you as a customer if you’re being honest about your situation.”

Doucette shares a similar mindset when it comes to the work done by Local 1303-007 members.

“The nice part of our job is you can take pride in your work because you get to see it. You can drive down a street, point to a pole you installed or fixed, and there’s a story behind it. Our work stands the test of time.”

AFSCME representation is clearly part of the equation for successful public service at Groton Utilities.

Pavent grew up in a union family – her mom was a member of the Communications Workers of America at the old Southern New England Telephone Co., and her dad was a journeyman electrician in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“Thanks to our [AFSCME] union, we have job security and a pension,” she reflected. “Without a union, the company would do whatever they want. Having a contract puts everything in black and white. It’s like our Bible. It’s what we have to stand on.”

As Doucette put it, “The union gives us security. It glues us all together. We have different jobs [at GU], but we’re all one.”