The union representing Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division employees, including meter readers, plans to take its problems with Smart Meters to the road – the side of the road.

Leaders of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1288 said Monday, July 8, they intend to put up billboards warning the public of what they say are the dangers of the new meters the utility plans to seek city funding for later this year.

The union campaign is similar to billboards the Memphis Police Association used earlier this year to show opposition to pay cuts of two years ago and any future budget cuts.

The IBEW’s announcement came at the end of a 90-minute town hall meeting at City Hall Monday evening hosted by council member Janis Fullilove, an outspoken opponent of the meters that can be read remotely and would not require someone to come out to a home or business to read the meter.

Fullilove began by noting the absence of MLGW President Jerry Collins or anyone else with the utility at the meeting. She called it “cowardly” on Collins’ part.

“I’m really disappointed that Jerry Collins and his staff disrespected you and the community,” Fullilove said to the group. “We’re going to find a way around it. We are going to make the right decision. I certainly hope we can have a referendum on this.”

She also acknowledged the political coalition among opponents, including some tea party members and civil libertarians.

“My statement is it doesn’t matter what we are,” Fullilove told the crowd in the council chambers. “I love the tea party, the Democrats, the independents, the centrists – whatever. If it’s right for Memphis, I am right for you.”

Most of the speakers spoke against the use of the meters either because they say they catch fire easily or because they believe they are an invasion of privacy or both.

“We’re going to find a way around it. We are going to make the right decision. I certainly hope we can have a referendum on this.”
–City Council member Janis Fullilove

City Council member Myron Lowery, however, pointed out that union assistant business manager Bill Hawkins has a Smart Meter on his home in Olive Branch.

Some of the Smart Meter critics at the session included other North Mississippi residents who complained about inaccurate bills and charges.

Council member Joe Brown linked the meters to communism.

“We know it can be hacked in China,” said Donna Bohannon, another opponent of the meters. “Made in China, hacked by China.”

Joe Saino, a former utility board member and frequent critic of the utility and city financial practices, is also allied with Fullilove. She led the opposition to Saino’s appointment to a city pension board early in her council tenure because of his blog critical of the city and the council.

Saino considers the Smart Meters “a diminution of your freedoms” and “a warrantless search.”

“We ought to demand a referendum on this,” he added Monday.

While utility officials stayed away from the meeting, they have been active in recent weeks saying MLGW’s pilot program with the Smart Meters has gone well with no fires reported. The utility claims the meters are more efficient and will result in more efficient use of resources by customers who can monitor their daily use and adjust accordingly.
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