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Strategy and Inspiration Power EWMC Meeting

September 17, 2011

With urgent calls to action, inspiring speeches, poignant memorials and panel discussions on strategy and tactics, the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus at the 38th Convention, put members in attendance on their feet and ready to take another step at building a more diverse and inclusive IBEW and labor movement.

Always Moving Forward, Forever Lifting Up
Under the banner, “Always Moving Forward, Forever Lifting Up,” the minority caucus event featured two panel discussions with leaders from local unions that have exemplified the mission of building a more inclusive organization. 

The first panel, entitled “Leading the Way,” was moderated by Larry Greenhill, vice president of Washington, D.C., Local 26 and included Eric Brown and Diana Limon, Los Angeles Local 11; Stan Stosel, Diamond Bar, Calif., Local 47, Madison Burnette, Las Vegas Local 357 and John Easton Jr., Houston, Texas, Local 716.

Limon and Brown outlined how, under the leadership of Business Manager Marvin Kropke, Local 11 worked with its EWMC chapter to visit political leaders as part of a sustained campaign to win billions of dollars of work on public school projects. Local 11 Organizing Director Kevin Norton said:

I have so much respect for the EWMC.  That’s where we get support for all of our organizing and growth.

Sparks Charges Members to Action
EWMC President Robbie Sparks charged hundreds in attendance to fight to keep the gains of the labor and civil rights movements from being snatched away.  She recalled her own roots. The daughter of a postal worker and a mother who, she says, “kept our house and cleaned someone else’s, too,” Sparks remembered her first impression of unions:

I was making $1.03 per hour in 1966.  I looked over at a union job that paid $2.00 per hour and I said that’s where I want to be…It’s time for all of us to hit the bricks [to defend collective bargaining and unions].

Sparks addressed the impatience of members who believe that internal change is not happening fast enough in the IBEW. While she said she has expressed similar concerns over the years, the way to make progress is to “be inside the room [where decisions are made].”  She said:

We can disagree with each other, but we don’t have to fall out.  So let’s stop pointing the finger at what others aren’t doing and point the finger back at ourselves and ask what we are doing for our union.

Hill Salutes EWMC-“You Will Never Be Silent”
In a welcome to EWMC members and guests, International President Edwin D. Hill, accompanied by Secretary-Treasurer Sam Chilia and several vice presidents and members of the International Executive Committee, saluted the caucus’ role in fighting against an onslaught of anti-labor corporations and politicians.  He said:

Dr. King once said that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.  And I take heart that I am here today with an organization of proud trade unionists who have not and will never be silent as the ladder is pulled out from under workers who have worked so hard and played by the rules.

Mission Possible
The second panel, “Mission Possible,” moderated by Charlotte White, business representative and organizer, Downers Grove, Ill., Local 15, included Wendell Yee, New York Local 3; Gary Parker, Los Angeles Local 11; Martin Maruffo, Los Angeles Local 18, Sean Bagsby, Seattle Local 46, Damien Fisher, Everett, Wash., Local 191, and Grace Smith, Tampa, Fla., Local 824.

Bagsby, Local 46’s renewable energy director, spoke about how the work force entering the renewable energy sector includes a broad array of men and women new to electrical work, including more who are recent immigrants and some who have had “difficult backgrounds,” including incarceration. Rather than rejecting these workers, says Bagsby, Local 46 has focused on a pre-apprenticeship program that takes capable and responsible men and women from “jailhouse to job site” and helps the local put more journeymen and apprentices to work in  renewable energy.

Paying Tribute to Fallen Leaders and Past Struggles
Attended by a contingent of young workers, the gathering featured a presentation on the history of the EWMC by Dorothy Fortier, the group’s secretary-treasurer and assistant business manager of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245.

New York Local 3 Business Manager Christopher Erikson introduced a video memorializing the legendary Local 3 Business Manager Harry Van Arsdale Jr.  A slide show featured Van Arsdale Jr. standing beside President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, backed by the melody  from the song,  “Abraham, Martin and John.”

 As a candle was lit to the sounds of  “Amazing Grace,” delegates observed a moment of silence to commemorate the recent passing of retired Ninth District International Representative Art Jones, a founder of the EWMC, and Sixth District International Vice President Jeff Lohman, a member of the IBEW’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

“A Great Experience,” Says Young Miami Lineman
Alfonso Hall Jr., one of the members of the young workers contingent, is living the dream envisioned by the founders of the EWMC.

At age 16, Hall entered a program for future linemen, a partnership between Florida Power and Light, Miami Local 359 and his high school. By his senior year, Hall was spending two full days a week learning how to set poles, run service and check voltages. At age 22, he already has already established two years of seniority as a lineman. Says Hall:

Our local is a mixing pot, with a lot of Black, Hispanic and white workers. I take back [from the EWMC meeting] the need for my co-workers to get more involved in the union.

Touching Souls—Moving Into Action
Closing the three hour session, Sparks asked the delegates to continue the tradition of responsible and persistent advocacy that is the hallmark of the EWMC.  She said:

Hopefully, we’ve given you some things that touch your soul.


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