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J-1 Workers Join IBEW

January/February 2002 IBEW Journal

Of the 640 electricians in the United States under the J-1 program, between 350 and 400 are now working under collective bargaining agreements.

In November 2001, the IBEW unanimously won a National Labor Relations Board election to represent USA-IT workers in the Washington-Baltimore area. It is thought to be the first NLRB election in which skilled foreign workers in the United States on temporary visas have voted to join a union.

In other parts of the country, the IBEW continues to seek out and organize J-1 workers. Before his visa expired and he went home to Romania in December, Potoroaca traveled extensively as a temporary organizer, successfully helping convince hundreds of J-1 workers they would be better off with the IBEW.

Just like any other newly organized worker, all are tested, and most proved their skills at the journeyman wireman level. Many have backgrounds in electrical engineering.

One of Sandovals proudest moments as an organizer in Albuquerque was initiating 60 J-1 workers into Local 611.

But those are the success stories. Some of the employers so terrified the J-1 electricians, they chose to return home rather than challenge them. IBEW organizers have documented some of the bullying tactics that were employed to intimidate the J-1 workers.

I have a video of guys getting followed to work because they didnt want to lose them, said Local 26 organizer Joe Dabbs in Washington, D.C.

Potoroaca said when he quit working for the non-union contractor in Albuquerque, he was literally chased off the property. He drove straight to the Local 611 union hall because it was the only place he felt protected.


From Shadow to Light