06/10/2010 12:40 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Utilities are a Public Good and Should Be Owned By the Public

This piece is co-authored with Utility Workers Union of America President Mike Langford.

Our union, the Utility Workers Union of America, just concluded very difficult bargaining for a new contract at DTE, formerly Detroit Edison. Though negotiations were tough we finally reached a good agreement. To get there 2000 of our members voted by 97% to authorize a strike. As both of us spoke to that overflow crowd and worked to reach an agreement, we were struck at the shortsightedness of some utility managers that would allow a stoppage of electricity service in one of America's largest cities and the de-staffing of a nuclear power plant.

We are convinced that it is past time to convert our utilities to public ownership as is the case with most water and waste-water utilities.

The right to utility service is a human right--electricity, water, gas, sewer. Eleven people in Detroit died last winter when their utilities were cut off and that right snatched away.

All utilities are necessary for the functioning of our society and the preservation of life. To allow life and death decisions to be made based on profit concerns is a violation of human rights.

Our members are amongst the first responders in life and death situations every day. We shut off the electricity or the gas in fires and other emergencies. Then we restore it. We arrived with the police and firefighters to the Twin Towers on 9-11-01 to shut off the power. Then we worked 24 hours a day to restore it so the stock exchange and America's business could resume.

Our work is crucial to the functioning of our society and to the lives of our people.

The delivery of public utilities is a public good and should be provided by entities that are publicly owned to ensure that life and death decisions are made in the best interests of all and not in the narrow interests of overpaid managers and shareholders.

The Utility Workers Union of America, represents 50,000 workers at every level in all kinds of utilities.