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Delegate Profile: Washington Leader Keeps Focus on Organizing

September 14, 2011

A sour economy, a fresh crop of anti-worker politicians and union-busting corporations are making it harder than ever to be a labor activist. But Tacoma, Wash., Local 483 Business Manager Alice Phillips – in attendance at the IBEW’s 38th International Convention in Vancouver as a delegate – is not in the habit of letting obstacles slow her down.  

Starting at Tacoma Power more than two decades ago, today she is the only woman business manager of an outside construction local in the IBEW, leading more than 1,000 utility workers.

Phillips says pursuing a nontraditional job path wasn’t easy:

There were some brothers who weren’t that accepting and I got some attitude. But my position was always: I will do my job and do it well, and it is up to others whether they can accept that or not.

A former Navy welder, Philips found herself at Tacoma Power in 1992 after Tacoma’s main shipyard – Tacoma Boat – closed.
As the sole woman in her unit, she eventually was appointed assistant business manager and then elected business manager in 2002.

She says:

This is a calling for me. I really believe in this cause and there is nothing better for me than being able to serve the labor movement in whatever capacity I can.

Philips says there is a big difference in attitude toward inclusion and diversity in the IBEW than when she first started in the trade:

A lot of members realize that it can’t be given a second thought anymore. My position is that if they can do the work – regardless of race, religion or gender – then they have a welcome place in this union, and I think most members are agreement.

Attending her third IBEW International Convention, Phillips said she hopes delegates stay focused on the union’s key challenge: organizing.

Says Philips:

We have to keep our eyes on recruitment. We were making major progress before the recession hit, but we can’t let up in winning new members. Our retirement and health care benefits – everything we have fought for – is at risk unless we chart a path for growth.

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