Wednesday, September 23

Honor Where Honor is Due

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David Callis, general manager, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Mike Rowe made a name for himself hosting a TV show called “Dirty Jobs.” Each episode highlighted unsung American workers who perform difficult but important jobs. While Rowe has many fans himself, it is through this show that he became a fan of electric lineworkers.

“I did this job for a day in Wyoming, and I walked funny all month,” said Rowe, recalling his time with lineworkers. “These men (and women) are on call around the clock. They are fearless and dedicated and crazy-brave. And they are quite possibly the toughest bunch of professionals I’ve had the pleasure to hang out with in a very long time.”

Across Tennessee, there are 3,500 electric lineworkers; some 800 of them work for Tennessee’s electric co-ops. These good people get out of bed, put on their boots and work each day to be sure the lights come on — as well as air conditioners, MRI machines and factory equipment — when you flip the switch.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association worked with state lawmakers to pass legislation introducing a new specialty license plate honoring the state’s electric lineworkers. We are currently working with state officials to roll out new “Powering Tennessee” specialty license plates statewide.

Lineworkers put their lives on the line — a phrase we often use to summarize the sacrifices made by lineworkers. They are always on duty, a phone call away from a long night (or week in some cases) making repairs and getting the power back on. They miss birthday parties, ballgames and other important events to serve their neighbors and friends.

They also put their lives on the line simply because of the nature of their work. Heights. High voltage. Bad weather. There are a multitude of risks that lineworkers face each day.

It is no surprise that electric lineworker consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous jobs in America. This year, it was No. 11, just after law enforcement officer. Our co-ops are serious about safety, but despite extensive safety precautions and ongoing training, the worst can happen.

Honoring the sacrifice and contributions of Tennessee’s lineworkers is a worthwhile effort, but the specialty plates are about much more than that.

Funds raised through the sale of the Powering Tennessee specialty plates go to the Tennessee Lineworker Lifeline Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation established to support lineworkers and their families in the event of a serious injury or fatality while on the job.

While we hope the funds never have to be used, the foundation is ready to assist lineworkers and their families when tragedy strikes.

Mike Rowe, speaking at an electric co-op event in 2016, ended with this: “If we find ourselves one day in some sort of post-apocalyptic Armageddon, these are the people who are gonna get polite society back on the rails. Something to think about next time you flip a switch and the lights come on.”

You don’t have to be a lineman to order a plate, and we encourage you to join us in supporting Tennessee’s electric lineworkers. You can learn more about the Powering Tennessee specialty license plate and order your own at


About Author

David Callis

David Callis is a 1982 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, with a degree in business administration. He began his career at the Tennessee Valley Authority in Chattanooga as an accountant, later becoming supervisor of power revenue. A Nashville native, he relocated back to Middle Tennessee in 1992 to join Tri-County EMC in Lafayette first as director of finance and administration and then as general manager. In February 2001, he joined the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association as director of government and public affairs. In June 2010, he was named vice president of statewide services with oversight over government relations, communications and marketing and member relations for the association. He became general manager in January 2012.

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