January 2010

Top-Down Organizing
Veteran Contractor Signs With IBEW
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As 22 electricians took their membership oaths at Albany, N.Y., Local 236's training center in September, Membership Development Representative Frank Muia thought about how fortunate he was to have developed a smooth relationship with them and their employer, Kevin Haggerty, owner of Flex Electric.

Haggerty, who had been in business as a nonunion contractor for 30 years before signing with the local, "went against the grain," says Muia. He had a stable work force, with some electricians who had been with him 27 years. His wages and benefits were in the top tier of the open shop sector.

Discussions between Haggerty and Local 236 go back four years. While talks between membership development representatives and the owner were cordial, serious dialogue about developing a signatory relationship only took shape this year. After four or five meetings, Haggerty told his crew that he was considering signing with IBEW and met with a favorable response.

Mark Donahue, an eight-year Flex electrician who formerly worked as a Teamster at UPS, says, "Kevin could have signed without talking to us, but that's not how he does things." Donahue, 27, says, "Now I get the best of both worlds, working for Kevin and having IBEW benefits."

Before the signing, Local 236 asked the owner for time to meet with Flex's electricians and answer any questions about the union. "There were no grumblings from the guys," says Muia. Haggerty signed soon after.

"Over time, I got a more comfortable feeling that the union wants to be a partner, rather than an adversary," says Haggerty, who expects his relationship with IBEW to open up larger, more complex jobs. "Time will tell if my decision was right," says Haggerty, but so far he and Muia agree that "neither one of us is perfect, but we both want to do what is right."

"We brought in some very talented electricians and we added a great contractor with Flex," says Muia, who looks back to the 2007 signing of Carey Electric, another long-time nonunion contractor, as a guide to the positive relationship with Flex Electric.

Mike Carey, owner of Carey Electric, a three-man shop, had been in business almost 28 years before he decided to sign with Local 236. "After I signed, I got calls from other contractors asking me why," says Carey, who told them that it was good for business.

"My business has grown because I can bid on jobs with confidence knowing I have the resources I need," says Carey, who recently received a letter of commendation from a consulting engineer overseeing the building of Tech Valley High School in Rensselaer.

"The workmanship on this project compares with that of any of the area's 'big boys' I've seen on projects over the last 20 years," states the letter.

Muia stays in close touch with Flex, Carey and other signatory contractors. "I tell Kevin and Mike and the rest of them that signing with the IBEW is like having a marketing director on your staff, " says Muia. "We're constantly marketing all of our contractors to developers, end users and owners."

A favorable work situation, including a new computer chip manufacturing facility and a major power plant construction project, makes it easier to organize contractors and electricians in the jurisdiction than elsewhere, says Muia. But persistence and follow-up on top-down efforts make all the difference, he says.

Twenty-two electricians at Flex Electric are initiated into Albany, N.Y., Local 236.