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IBEW members picket Guys Electric in Austin, Texas. From left, Local 520 members Philip Lawhon, Leon Anderson, Ricky Baugh, Alan Stockton, Darryl Bushelle and Rick Zerr; Local 20 member Kevin Gustin; and Local 479 member Sherry Passmore.

Austin Contractor Signs Up After Seeing Salts Skills

January/February 2002 IBEW Journal

IBEW Local 520, Austin, Texas, is going to have Guys Electric as a signatory contractor on future jobs. The agreement is the result of a determined organizing effort helped by the fact the contractor was singularly impressed with the superior skills of the IBEW members who salted his job.

The contract, as it exempts all of Guys Electrics existing work, is an investment in the future of both Guys and IBEW Local 520, said then-Business Manager Jimmy Sunvison, now a Seventh District International Representative. The contractors main reason for signing rather than fighting the union every step of the way was that he was very pleased with the caliber of the workers sent by the local.

The campaign took four months and included a brief strike and the hiring of a woman Local 520 said was discriminated against in an earlier application.

Sunvison said that IBEW Seventh District temporary organizer Ralph Merriweather pointed out Guys Electric as an organizing target because Guys was awarded a $6 million City of Austin contract and was going to need a large number of skilled electricians.

For the first time in a decade, the local had members available for salting and immediately set out to infiltrate Guys Electric, said Local 520 organizer Michael Murphy. After an early application by a Local 520 member, eight IBEW travelers came to the job from Local 278 in Corpus Christi, Local 20 in Dallas-Fort Worth and Local 576 in Alexandria, Louisiana. Then four existing employees signed authorization cards, Murphy said, and we had the support of 13 of the 15 employees.

At a meeting with Murphy and local organizer Robert Biehle, Guys Electric owner Jean Guy Fournier expressed his admiration for the skills of the IBEW members on the job. When a supervisor balked at Fourniers intention to sign an agreement, the IBEW members and some of the nonunion employees walked off the City of Austin job at the Town Lake Community Events Center. Local 520 also filed an unfair labor practice charge when nonunion employees were hired after two union members were laid off.

It took four days for the strike to force a resolution. Sunvison and local organizer Maverick Garrett joined the other two organizers at a subsequent meeting that led to Fournier becoming a signatory to the inside agreement between Local 520 and the Central Texas Chapter of NECA.

Guys also agreed to the hiring of Sherry Passmore of Local 479, Beaumont, Texas, whose first application had been ignored during the hiring of eight men. The company pledged no further discrimination after Local 520 made it clear cases like Passmores were a strike issue for the IBEW.