Mitch Miller’s “Workplace” is cold, has poor visibility, and is dangerous
(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories we’ll publish recognizing the vital work and important contributions our represented employees do for Californians. If you have a job classification that deserves highlighting, send your ideas to email@example.com)
California’s state workforce and the 96,000 employees represented by Local 1000 provide a great many vital services … essential services … and keep California going. We’re highlighting job classifications across the state to show our appreciation for their contribution.
California has more than 20,000 bridges, and part of the mission of Caltrans is to provide drivers with a safe and reliable roadway for their travels up and down the state. One essential role in keeping that mission is bridge inspection.
Local 1000 represents Bargaining Unit 11 Caltrans workers who visit those bridges and do close-up inspections of each. They use a range of learned skills, technology, and visual examinations to ensure our safety.
Some of the bridges—close to 860—have part of their infrastructure underwater, and so, a group of specially-trained Unit 11 Transportation Engineering Technicians (TET) work “beneath the waves” to carefully inspect bridge components with the same care as an above-water examination. They are part of what Caltrans calls “special investigations.”
“We work in difficult conditions,” says Mitch Miller, a TET who’s on a team of 14 dive-certified bridge inspectors (7 full-time, 7 part-time). “In some cases, like the Bay Area, the water is quite murky. But, if we can see our hands in front of us, that’s ‘good visibility,’ and we’ll perform the inspection.” At the same time, there’s often a strong current that makes the work even harder. And, almost every bridge is different: concrete, steel, and sometimes, timber construction.
“It’s essential work, and our inspection teams didn’t skip a beat during the pandemic,” says Miller, a 23-year veteran of state service, all spent with Caltrans. He’s on the road and in the water as often as every other week, year-round.
Miller’s job requires commercial diving certification that must remain current. At the same time, he’s responsible for the service and repair of the diving equipment and inspection tools used on the job. And, because he uses large trucks to haul equipment, he holds a Class A driver license.
It’s technically and physically demanding at the same time, but our Unit 11 divers face an additional challenge. They’re not paid the same “diving differential” as divers in other bargaining units who do the same job but are paid a higher differential.
“Our differential hasn’t changed in more than 20 years,” say Miller. “By raising our profile as essential workers, by organizing even more for the upcoming contract negotiations, we hope to get that changed.”