History Highlight: Meter reader who fought for fairness

At Louisville Water, meter readers are essential employees who are out in the community reading thousands of meters every day. You might recognize their unusual vehicles in your neighborhood – the driver’s seat and steering wheel are on the right side.

This means meter readers can step directly onto the sidewalk instead of into traffic when they stop to get readings, keeping them safer.

Meter readers were long a part of Louisville Water’s workforce and in 1940, after years of effort, all of the company’s meter services were fully metered. In the February 6, 1965 edition of The Courier-Journal,the city was praised for its progress in “employment without discrimination.”

In the article, Louisville Water president Horace Estey reported on Louisville Water’s increase in hiring Black employees. Without naming names, Estey remarked that one employee was a meter reader who was “the first to hold such a position.”

A thorough review of company records suggest this person might have been Billy E. Williams, who began his Louisville Water career as a porter in 1960, presumably at the Brook & Lee Yard. Williams worked his way up the ranks throughout his 31-year career at the company.

Louisville Water retiree Terry Conway, a drafter, remembers Williams as being respected by fellow employees and for his willingness to help others.  Although soft spoken Williams was not afraid to come forward to face injustice and speak up for his fellow coworkers. Early in his career he filed a grievance report pointing out that porters were doing the same work as laborers but not getting paid as much.

He asked for equal pay, but it is not known how this was settled. A few years later, he and other meter readers in Local 1683 filed another grievance stating their workload had increased and therefore they should be paid more. Estey did not agree, responding he expected a day’s work for a day’s pay.

Williams was also on the union’s negotiating committee in 1972. Two years later he was promoted to distribution foreman. That position was reclassified as distribution supervisor in 1977, where he remained until his retirement in 1991.

After retirement, Williams opened Billy’s Place Lounge and Supper Club originally located at 2977 Wilson Avenue. The venue included a rental hall, a lounge, and a theater, showing a variety of music. Billy’s Place continued at several locations until it was sold to John Cole, renaming it Cole’s Place in 2008.

Learn more about how your meter is read.

This marriage announcement was printed in The Courier-Journal on July 2, 1995.