January 2010

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Unemployed Members Rescue Shelter

Unemployed after 33 years in the electrical trade, Milo Ziemer couldn't be faulted for putting his own needs first. But when Jason Drake, director of Decatur, Ill., Local 146's apprenticeship program, asked Ziemer to supervise volunteers upgrading electrical service in a men's homeless shelter in a 100-year-old building, he didn't hesitate.

"How could I not volunteer to help those who are less fortunate? It's the Christian thing to do," says Ziemer, who is looking to travel for work. "I can go to other places and get a job. For whatever reason, the men in the shelter can't. I need to help my fellow man."

Ziemer's crew of 12 unemployed journeymen and apprentices is on its way to completing $15,000 of electrical work on the shelter run by Decatur Cares Rescue Ministries and has been widely recognized in the local press.

Like its 16 nightly tenants, the shelter had fallen on hard times. Mike McCammack, who took over its direction three years ago, had a plan to expand living quarters on the second floor of the building, which doubles as a community kitchen for families in need. He wanted to provide bigger sleeping rooms, a larger chapel and more kitchen space. But after working hard to solicit money from the local community, McCammack did not have enough to complete the project in line with local construction code.

Randy Hendrix, the mission's project manager, contacted Local 146's apprenticeship for help. The local invited him to address its executive board and said he would get their response within two weeks.

"[Before the meeting,] we were dead in the water," says Hendrix. But the day after the executive board meeting, Ziemer and his crew arrived. "Local 146 sent super people," says Hendrix, "doing what they do—knocking out quality work quickly to code."

"I would love to get on the big national news shows and talk about how local union members volunteered their time to save this shelter," says Hendrix.

Work on the men's mission follows a long tradition of Local 146 and other AFL-CIO affiliates volunteering in the community, says Local 146 Business Manager Shad Etchason. Decatur's annual Labor Day parade is a rallying point for unions in the city. Decatur drew national attention in 1993 when locked-out workers at A.E. Staley's corn-processing plant joined workers on strike at the now-shuttered Bridgestone/Firestone plant and others on strike at Caterpillar to challenge corporate greed.

Decatur, Ill., Local 146 apprentice Jeff Taylor, part of a crew of unemployed IBEW volunteers, installs a receptacle at a men's shelter.