Consumers Energy maintains the system that delivers natural gas to much of Michigan.  It isn’t just a commodity.  It is the heat that warms our homes and the energy that cooks our meals.  Today we celebrate Natural Gas Utility Workers with Pete Matrunola and Randy Koerber.

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William Krieger 

Hello, everyone, and welcome to this special edition of the Me You Us podcast. I’m your host, Bill Krieger. Today we are celebrating natural gas utility workers day, not only here at Consumers Energy, but across the country. And I have two guests to help me celebrate. My first guest is Pete Matrunola. He’s the Executive Director of gas distribution north at Consumers Energy. So, Pete, please introduce yourself.

Pete Matrunola 

Well, good afternoon, Bill. Thanks. Thanks for having us today and really appreciate this opportunity. So, a little bit about myself. I’ve been with Consumers Energy 25 years, primarily in our gas operations team for most of those 25 years, spent a lot of time in engineering early on, also spent a little time in our fleet services group. But all in all, been a tried-and-true gas utility side of the business. So real excited to spend the time with you today.

William Krieger 

So, 25 years, I’m in my 28th year myself. So, it seems like that time flies by really fast, especially here.

Pete Matrunola 

Oh, yeah, absolutely. It just, it’s actually kind of surreal, kind of looking backwards. The Time does fly, but the coworkers and the friendships that have been made over the years are pretty amazing. And, and it’s just a great testimony to the power of the company here and just what we do.

William Krieger 

Well, I have to ask you though, I find that I’m turning into that person that I used to kind of chuckle about when I first started here, right? I’m that old guy now that I used to not listen to when I first started working here.

Pete Matrunola 

Yeah, I’m that I’m that guy too Bill.

William Krieger 

Glad to hear. We’ll both be those old guys that people chuckle at you know. So, Pete is not my only guest today. I also have Randy Koerber here with us, he’s a union safety rep for gas construction in the southeast. So Randy, if you’ll introduce yourself, we’ll get this conversation started.

Randy Koerber 

Thanks, Bill, Just like Pete, an honor to be here. Glad to be part of this. So, I came to Consumers Energy about eight and a half years ago, as a gas lines construction foreman, with our enhanced infrastructure replacement program, which now is kind of evolved to gas construction, you know, ran a line crew out there and installing gas main, mostly six inch and four-inch plastic. Was very heavily involved with the union, and the safety culture Action Team partnering with, you know, some issues that we overcome, obviously, teams help overcome issues. So, partnering with management and got really involved with my local union, local 105 as a steward and fortunately, and happy to be you know, the gas safety rep for south east gas construction. So, pleasure to be here.

William Krieger 

Great to have you here. So, I have to ask you only you’ve only been here eight years. So, you’re kind of the young guy in the room. What did you do before you came to Consumers?

Randy Koerber 

I did a lot of different kinds of construction, started out in the building trades industry and in high school, framed some houses with my dad and my uncle and some buddies. And was a heavy equipment mechanic right after I got out of high school and a welder building trailers for Fontain Corporation and, and just kind of evolved into underground I liked heavy equipment. So, I bought a bunch of equipment and trucks and semis and gravel trains and got into the underground industry, doing some sewer work and, and some water work. And that just kind of evolved with all the equipment. I had my welding background, doing some structural steel work and fabricating and ran my own business for a little over 20 years, and traveled all over the country working for the Army Corps of Engineers and a lot of municipalities. Ended up getting into the utility business by default, just because of the equipment we had doing solar work, and my wife got sick of me traveling and a couple people I knew worked at Consumers Energy and told me about this new enhanced infrastructure replacement program and said you’d be a great fit. And their wives got into my wife’s ear to get me back home, so, I can spend some time with her. So that’s why I’m here. I’m really glad to be here, working for the company and partnering with Pete we partner on all kinds of stuff, pretty much at least on a weekly basis, sometimes on a daily basis. So actually, Pete, that it wasn’t set up this way for us to be here on the podcast, but he did my interview. Yeah. And he’s actually the gentleman that hired me. And I didn’t know him. So, I didn’t know him from Adam. And now here we are together doing a podcast.

William Krieger 

You know, it’s like a little family reunion.

Randy Koerber 

Yes. It sure is.

William Krieger 

So, I do notice that that to get you here, someone had to talk to the decision maker at the house. It sounds like getting in your wife’s ear and got you over here.

Randy Koerber 

Yeah, that definitely, yep, I enjoyed what I did was, you know, a lot of passion, owning my own business, and a lot of passion for safety, in that. And I think that’s what really helps drive me here. And that’s what I like about the natural gas industry is, you know, safety is at the forefront of what we do. What we do is really hazardous as natural gas workers. But it becomes dangerous when we don’t follow those procedures and practices and question the procedures and review them before we do the work question the work or the environment we’re working in, we can’t change the environment. So sometimes we have to tailor that work around the environment we have. But yeah, needed to get coerced a little bit into, you know, selling all my equipment, and coming back to the wonderful state of Michigan fulltime, instead of traveling on the road. And really enjoy that, spending that time with my wife and, and my kids now my kids are older, but we still get to spend some time together.

Pete Matrunola 

Randy, you know, once I interviewed you, it was a lock, you know, we had definitely had to bring you here, you know, your passion for the business and the passion around safety, I’m like, this guy is going to be a good addition to the company. So definitely glad that you’re here and glad we’re working together. It’s kind of cool. are able to do this together here today.

Randy Koerber 

Yeah, yeah, that was pretty exciting for me, you know. And I actually told my wife, I was doing this today with you. So, she’s like, That’s so awesome.

William Krieger 

You sounded very excited when I talk to you on the phone about it. And I’m like, Okay, why is that?

Pete Matrunola 

This is Randy, you’re getting a good glimpse of Randy here.

William Krieger 

So, I want to go back just for a second, though, you’re talking about safety. And so, my background is the military, I spent 21 years in the military. Here at Consumers and the job we do here is not much different from my job in the military, in that it was very dangerous, right? The enemy is different. But the outcome, if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, the outcome’s the same, you’re either injured or you’re dead. Because it is a very dangerous job. It doesn’t have to be dangerous if we’re doing it the right way and following the rules in applying safety in all that we do. But I was amazed when I came to Consumers how much it reminded me of my time in the military with the structure of the chain of command and so on. So, Pete, I gotta ask you too, I mean, you’ve been here for 25 years, so maybe you don’t remember what you did.

Pete Matrunola 

Barely.

William Krieger 

So, what did you do before you came to Consumers?

Pete Matrunola 

So, you know, grew up a couple family-owned businesses. So, my father had an auto repair shop did mostly light duty auto repair and, and so my nights and weekends as a child was doing brake jobs and pulling transmissions and doing whatever dad needed me to do. So, he was generally a kind of a one-man band when it came to his shop. But he definitely had me as a helper during the week and on weekends. And then also my, my uncle also owned a small business as well and did screen printing for like shampoo bottles and stuff. So, summers were basically two jobs for me during the summer. So, and when you’re working for family, you know, there’s a lot of grace. You know, you get up really early and you work all day. And you’re expected to do that every single day. That was a good thing, though, because that definitely taught me a lot of lessons in terms of how important it is to work and work hard and everything you do because we lived, you know, hand to mouth, right? I mean, if there were no cars coming in the shop and we weren’t doing repairs, made it a little bit tougher, you know, to kind of make ends meet by the end of the week. But all that to say that was a little bit of my background before Consumers.

William Krieger 

So, it sounds like family-owned businesses. You both like working with your hands. As I’ve done interviews, to hire folks into the gas department. I hear very similar stories. A lot of people like to work with their hands.  When I was a kid my mom would take me to yard sales, and she would buy things for me to take apart because she got tired of me taking apart her toaster. I am good at the taking apart, but not so good at putting it back together part of it. So, I like working with my hands, but I gotta be careful because I’m going to break something.  Well, good. So, we are here to talk about natural gas Utility Workers Day, which is Friday, March 18. And I wanted to ask each of you, What does that day really mean to you? Because we have so many recognition days out there for different things. This one really struck me maybe just because I work in the utility industry and have worked with our gas department extensively. But I’m wondering, Pete, what does it mean to you to recognize our workers out there?

Pete Matrunola 

Well, to me, the hard work and the efforts that our coworkers put in every day, is really truly amazing. And it’s, it’s all the elements, right, so whether it’s zero degrees out in the dead of winter, in February, in the middle of the night, and we are called to respond, they’re all in. And it’s just, it’s, it’s truly an honor to be able to serve with our coworkers, our frontline workers, and work with them and lead and just be a part of serving the customer. Because what we give the customer, what we provide the customer has so much more value, right? I mean, it goes beyond heating the house and being able to flip the dial on the stove and cook a good dinner, you know, powers our cars, it’s such a, it’s such a great and abundant commodity. And it does so much for us as Michiganders, it does so much for us, for our families. So, it’s pretty, it’s pretty sobering. But yeah, that’s just a proud moment just to know that our coworkers are so dedicated, and they want to serve the customer safely. And they want to serve them well. And so, I’m proud to be able to work with our fellow gas workers here at Consumers Energy.

William Krieger 

Randy, you know, you mentioned, coming back to the great state of Michigan and I, as I look back on my time, I lived in Michigan almost my whole life. As I look back at my time here, you said, Pete, like, there’s five minutes of the whole year where the weather is perfect for working outside, like, it’s either too hot or too cold, it’s raining, or it’s too dry. Like there’s no perfect time. But we do get four seasons. So, I, I do enjoy that. Randy, what about you? What does this mean to you as a safety rep.? And as a person who’s been in the industry?

Randy Koerber  

Yeah, it means a lot of different things to me, Bill. I guess one thing that I, when I first think about it, you know, I’d look at all these folks that we get coming into the gas Construction Division, because it’s kind of the onboarding, if you will now for the company, and just watching the evolution of the people, as they evolve through their training and learn the industry. You know, what great leaders we’ve created, just over the past eight years that I’ve been here. You know, that had no idea how to install gas main, gas services, do meter work, you know, what have you. And then also just, you know, with my previous construction background, and being around large projects, and developments and stuff, just the way that the industry’s evolved, you know, how we install pipe with directional drills, we do, you know, 90% of our, our installation with directional drills, and that, you know, really lessens the impact of the communities. So, it gives me an opportunity to just think about all the wonderful things out there, the tools that we have, the equipment we have, you know, that the company provides us and in how hard everyone works and, and that, you know, people, you know, really want to get into this industry, they want to learn these processes, procedures, different techniques. So it just gives me an opportunity to just kind of reflect on all that as a whole, you know, because it is, there’s so much to think about, when you think about natural gas. I mean, I always, you know, really had a passion for construction and building and in, you know, how things happen. You know, using my hands, if you will, and just really like, like the industry and, you know, it gives me an opportunity to look at, you know, what a great impact it’s had on, you know, so many people, you know, in the industry, and then our customers do like, like Pete was saying, you know, I mean, it’s one of the cleanest burning fuels, the cleanest burning fuel out there. So definitely gives us a great opportunity to recognize all that and all the people that work so hard out there.

William Krieger 

Yeah, you know, Garrick talks about natural gas electricity in terms of, we don’t just deliver natural gas, right, we’re heating people’s homes, and we’re cooking people’s dinners. And so that’s, to me, that kind of brings it all home as to what we do. The other thing you talked about, though, is being out in the field and learning and leading and one of the things I’ve noticed in my entire time here is when you’re out in the field. it’s again, it harkens back to my time in the military. Everyone’s kind of got everybody’s back. Right? Like I might not, we may not be best friends with the crew for whatever reason, we may not like the same foods, but when we’re out there it’s one team one fight, and we’re making sure everyone’s working safe. And everyone comes home at night.

Pete Matrunola 

Yeah, it’s truly impressive, you know, the commodity itself, and the inherent dangers that could be present in terms of dealing with the commodity and what we what we serve to our customers, but it can be safely worked on. And fundamentally, you know, how our coworkers approach safety, like you said, Bill, you know, they have each other’s back. And you know, when it comes down to just even setting up a simple job site, the teams, the way they work together, and the training that we provide, and they take it to heart. And it’s really, those fundamentals, and the blocking and tackling in terms of how they approach every job, every task, every day is truly amazing. And they really take it seriously. And that’s the cool thing about it. Because, you know, just as a customer myself, it makes me proud to work for a company and coworkers. I care so much about them, and they care about our customers, they care about how they approach the commodity. So, it’s really cool to see being a customer and also a coworker.

William Krieger 

Well, it’s been interesting to watch our safety evolution, right from going from compliance and safety that we have to do, because we don’t want to get in trouble. To safety is just who we are. And I’ve watched it in the 28 years I’ve been here, and I know Randy and your job, that’s a big part of what you do. So, in the eight years you’ve been here, what kinds of things have you seen that really impress you about your coworkers?

Randy Koerber 

Oh, just the fact that they, you know, they take the time in the morning. You know, number one, I guess it started out with the management that the management really encourages, and the company encourages the union workers to take the time to, you know, do a great pre job brief, we call it a tailboard here Consumers Energy and filling out that tailboard. And I mean, that’s the playbook for the day. Those are the ingredients, right? And the time that we’re allotted to do that. And the time that we’re allotted to stop the job and reassess, if we come across something different than what we thought we were going to encounter, or if you know, something just doesn’t look right. So that’s something that I really like, you know, about the industry. And I think, like Pete said, is the work and inherently is hazardous work, you know. And I think that everyone here does a great job at stopping, reassessing the situation, trying to find the, you know, the best and safest way to do you know, perform that work out there. So that’s something that has really hit home, you know, especially the work that I did for the Army Corps engineers, like you said, it’s when I first got my first job working for them, it was like, okay, guys, well, we’re going to have to go through all the safety stuff. And they’re going to make us do all this. And we had our OSHA 30s and our OSHA 10s. And we thought we were really safe workers because we didn’t, people weren’t getting hurt. I mean, in 20 years, we had three recordable injuries. And we usually carried about a 22-man crew, which is really good, good numbers for the, for the amount of hours that we worked on the type of work we did. But one thing that I liked it that this company and I think the industry itself, because I’ve been other gas conferences and stuff that the road to zero, and you know, zero injuries, right? That’s what we’re really looking for. So, if we stop and recognize all those hazards, we’re going to keep injuries down, we’re going to be able to do that work safely and go home to our families. You know, that’s we’re all here to make a living provide safe, reliable energy. But at the end of the day, you know, we want to go home to our families, because that living that we make doesn’t do us any good. If we can’t do all the things we enjoy doing. Outside of work, you know, all the stuff we enjoy doing outside of work is, is probably why most people come to work.

William Krieger 

Yeah. Well, you know, it’s interesting, because I think if you think about what we do as a utility, it would be very easy to just say, well, this is a dangerous job and people get hurt doing this job. But I think is a company right down to the person in the field, that brand new guy digging a hole with the shovel. Everyone understands that that’s not the philosophy. Yes, it’s a dangerous job, but we have to do everything we can do to mitigate that, that danger and go home safely. And you can see within our safety record over the years that that’s really been the philosophy of not just the company but the people in the company.

Pete Matrunola 

Yeah, it’s definitely, it’s definitely built in versus kind bolted on, if you will. And it’s our interdependence, right, it’s, you know, Randy and I working together collaborating around safety in the essence of safety, what it means and how we drive that, that mindset, and it is evolved and changed so much Bill in our time. And it’s truly amazing, because we’re moving from the head, because we have all this knowledge and between our ears, and we’re moving right to the heart, and that’s where it counts. And, and the work that has been done, you know, interdependently, you know, with the union and the company has been truly amazing, and, and that evolution just keeps happening, and it keeps getting stronger. So, it really just, you know, it makes me proud. And just to kind of reflect back for where we were and where we’re at today. It’s pretty awesome.

William Krieger 

I would agree. You know, we’re probably not at the point where we can pat ourselves on the back yet, because we want to be at zero, right. But we get very close to that every year. Well, thank you for sharing all of that. We are getting close to the end of the podcast, but I don’t want to end it without giving you each the opportunity to leave a message with the audience. So, Pete, I’ll start with you. What would you like the audience to take away from this discussion, and also this celebration of our natural gas utility workers?

Pete Matrunola 

Yeah, you know, March 18. It’s a day for us to celebrate, recognize and be proud of all of our gas operations coworkers, and the work that they do to proudly serve our communities, which I think is just so cool. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to do that. Randy and I were talking a little bit, you know, before and just kind of talking about the history of what this day means. And, you know, back in 1937, Randy, we’re talking because we’re doing our homework, you know, trying to really understand the essence of this that, you know, there was a there was an explosion. And since then, in 1937, you know, all utility operators of natural gas systems really had to take a deeper look in terms of how we safely approach the work that we do with natural gas systems. So, to be a part of that and celebrate this day, and it’s a day of recognition, and just be proud of our coworkers and the hard work and efforts they put forth, and they safely provide that service to our customers. So that’s what it’s all about. And that’s what I’d like to leave everyone with today.

William Krieger 

Well, thanks for that, Pete. And I will say probably as part of the work we’ve been doing here with infrastructure replacement; we’ve probably dug up some of that pipe that was put in back in 1937. Yeah, so Randy, really the same question for you, as we celebrate natural gas utility workers on this day, what would you like to leave the audience with?

Randy Koerber 

You know, I would say, you know, one thing that I would really like to share is that to thank all the hard workers out there, people that sacrifice their time away from home, when there’s an emergency. So, there’s a gas leak called in, you know, these folks that have to leave in the middle of the night, and they’re out there in these challenging environments, whether it’s raining, snowing, hot, cold, you know, they got to go out there, and they got to get that gas shut off, and renewed to that, or that leak fixed, you know, to that resident, or in that neighborhood. And, you know, thank all those folks that do that work. And then, you know, for the folks that all the folks that do that work, I mean, you should be proud, you should really be proud of who you are, and what you do for your communities. Because, you know, a lot of times, you know, we look at police and fire, you know, and we think, Oh, well, they’re public servants. Utility Workers are public servants, too. I mean, we’re out here serving the public, everyday 24/7. You know, to give them safe, reliable energy and, and, you know, of course, to ourselves to just like Pete said, we’re, we’re consumers also of consumers energy. So, you know, just recognize those folks out there that make a lot of personal sacrifices. And I want to thank all the utility workers across the nation for all the hard work they do, and taking the time to stop, recognize those hazards. You know, there’s all kinds of great stories all across the United States and across the world, for that matter of what utility workers have seen, while they’re performing their work, and help their communities with while they were out there. You know, other incidents that might have happened and the training that we get because of the hazardous work that we’ve, you know, been able to help the communities with when we recognize something. You know, we put that on our work and help with that, too.

Pete Matrunola 

Yeah, absolutely.

William Krieger 

Yeah, so I mean, a really a lifetime of service. You don’t have to be in the military. You don’t have to be a police officer or paramedic or whatever it is to serve your community. I couldn’t agree more that the services provided here is really something that we all need, as, as you said, as consumers of this product. So, thank both of you for coming on the program today. I really appreciate it. Thank you to all the gas utility workers out there who are working hard even as we celebrate you today. Go out and have dinner with your families or whatever it is you want to do on this day, but really know that you’re being celebrated here, at Consumers Energy, and especially by these two great gentlemen are sitting here with me today.       

Randy Koerber 

Thanks for having us here. Bill it’s really been enjoyable.

Pete Matrunola 

Yeah. Thank you, Bill. Really appreciate it.

William Krieger 

Thank you to the audience for listening in today. The Me You Us podcast is proudly sponsored by Consumers Energy leaving Michigan better than we found it. Remember, you can find the Me You Us podcast on all major podcasting platforms. So be sure to go out find us and subscribe. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. That’s 1-800-273-8255 If you are a veteran or know a Veteran who is in crisis, you can call 1-800-273-8255 in press one for the Veterans Crisis Line. And remember to tune in every Wednesday, as we talk about the things that impact your personal world.