March 2010

Diversity and Inclusion Program Builds Union's Strength
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St. Louis Local 1439 Business Manager Michael Walter didn't expect to become an example of diversity awareness when he launched a volunteer fund-raising effort to help unemployed members of his city's inside construction Local 1. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Then Walter, whose local represents utility workers, attended one of the first sessions of IBEW's new diversity and inclusion training, Amplifying Membership Participation=Strength (AMPS). There, participants considered the full spectrum of differences that exist among the union's base including educational level, age, gender, race and branch and, yes, even employment status. "We're all IBEW and branches need to work together for the benefit of our entire membership," Walter says.

"The AMPS training is about providing IBEW leaders and members with the education and knowledge that will enable us to access the many talents available within a diverse membership and create the next generation of activists and leaders," says IBEW Human Services Director Carolyn Williams.

Working with IBEW Education Director Jan Schwingshakl, Williams and the 16-member IBEW Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, convened by International President Edwin D. Hill in response to a unanimous resolution at the 37th IBEW Convention in 2006 in Cleveland, worked with outside experts to design the program.

"For years, we've been talking about how our nations' populations are changing and how our leadership needs to look more like our membership," says Schwingshakl. "Now it's time to make it happen, or the IBEW and organized labor will be the dinosaurs we are always falsely accused of being."

The training fulfills the diversity and inclusion committee's decision to put education of leaders first as the foundation for positive cultural change in the Brotherhood. Unlike training sessions of the past, AMPS avoids dryly presenting legal obligations on civil rights or gender harassment, or simply encouraging members to get along better. "We're all one, but we recognize that one size doesn't fit all," says Susan Woods, a partner in Henderson-Woods, the program's designer.

Russell Ponder, the now-retired vice president of Chicago Local 134, who co-chaired the diversity and inclusion committee, has seen first-hand the benefits of increasing local leaders' appreciation of the need for diversity and inclusion.

Ponder recalls how three African-American Local 134 apprenticeship instructors approached their local about the challenge of preparing minority applicants to pass entry tests. With the financial and moral support of their business manager and the local contractor's association, the instructors developed 134 Jump Start, a highly-successful pre-apprenticeship program, recognized across the city. (See "Chicago Residents Get Jump Start on Apprenticeship Programs," IBEW Journal, Spring 2008).

"That's the kind of successes we can have everywhere when local leaders understand the importance of diversity and inclusion," says Ponder, who also served as vice president of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus.

The International committee understood that diversity training will take time considering the turnover in business managers and their busy schedules, says Ponder. "This is a long process," he says. "But it's the only way for IBEW to survive."

"People are like icebergs," says a PowerPoint slide in the first of four sections emphasizing how individual identities are a combination of what's visible and invisible, above and below the surface. Effective leaders need to know both ends of the iceberg. "Diversity is about the people. Inclusion is about the organization," says Woods, who credits the strength of the IBEW's plan with the organization's inclusion of members from different backgrounds and different levels of organizational leadership experience on the planning committee.

Tom Rutherford, political coordinator of Denver Local 68, who attended AMPS in December on the invitation of Business Manager Dennis Whalen, remembers being assigned to a female journeyman in the late 1980s and challenging the bigotry of a senior male journeyman who questioned why women should be in the trade. Even so, the training was "eye-opening," says Rutherford, especially the section on how diverse generations in the union view themselves, each other and the organization's role in their work lives and futures.

Kathy Jordan, who became the first female journeyman in Local 68 in 1980, joined Rutherford. Remembering how sisters in the trade would hide their pregnancies to keep from unemployment, Jordan still sees room for improvement at the jobsite. "The training's been a long time coming," she says.

Jordan and Rutherford enjoyed role-playing exercises where participants are presented with potential conflicts between members and are asked to devise solutions. "It's elevated our awareness," says Rutherford. "We'll still make mistakes [dealing with each other], but, when we do, we can step back and say, ‘we've goofed.'" The IBEW Media Department has produced a series of videos—using professional actors—to enhance the role-playing sections.

The 37th IBEW Convention's resolution on diversity and inclusion proceeds from the reality that, while women and people of color have "joined unions in far greater numbers than other workers in the past 25 years, this growth would have been even greater if the labor movement had adequately addressed issues important to them… ."

The resolution is a testament to the consistent advocacy of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, founded in 1974 at the 30th IBEW Convention in Kansas City. (See "Building IBEW's Diversity and Strength," IBEW Journal, June 2006). From its inception through 1991's Centennial Convention—when the group's meeting was officially listed in the convention brochure for the first time—and beyond, EWMC has been pressing for more mentoring and advancement of minority members into leadership.

The resolution continues, "Managing diversity is not only an economic and business imperative, but is a political, social, and moral imperative as well." The measure empowers the International President to study policies and procedures related to recruitment, hiring, access to education, career paths, mentoring and leadership to realize diversity as "a core structural element to achieve inclusion and full participation for all members at every level of the IBEW… ."

After the Cleveland convention, Hill met with leaders of the EWMC to flesh out implementation of the resolution. A newly-formed diversity and inclusion committee met for 18 months, during which a curriculum for diversity training was developed. In April 2009, International officers and executive assistants attended a pilot session in Las Vegas, followed by several other sessions with business managers and district staffs.

In a video introduction for AMPS training, International President Edwin D. Hill says, "With AMPS, like COMET and the Brotherhood's Code of Excellence, the IBEW is providing an example to the building trades and other organizations in taking on tough challenges."

In a troubled economy, says Hill, there will be those who want to "go slow" on ushering in a more inclusive union culture.

"As with our other programs, we need to have the courage to do both what is right and what can make us stronger. A more confident, forward-looking union will be better positioned to advocate for our members who are facing tough times," says Hill.


Los Angeles Local 11 Business Manager Marvin Kropke addresses a pre-apprenticeship class.

Los Angeles Local 11's Sammy Jackson, top, started in a pre-apprenticeship program.

Below, a health fair sponsored by East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 and Verizon.

IBEW Human Services Director Carolyn Williams fields questions from participants at a diversity training session.

Los Angeles Local 11 has sought to promote more diversity in the trades.

Click above for full graph.
Committee on Diversity & Full Inclusion

Phillip Flemming
First District
International VP

Robert Klein
Tenth District
International VP

Jeff Lohman
Sixth District
International VP

Michael Mowery
Ninth District
International VP

Pat Lavin
International Executive Council, Business Manager, Diamond Bar, Calif., Local 47

Greg Lucero International Executive Council, Business Manager, Houston,
Local 66

Javier Casas
Business Manager, El Paso, Texas, Local 583

Clarence LarkinBusiness Manager, Laurel, Miss., Local 1317

Lorraine TinsleyBusiness Manager, Hartford, Conn., Local 1040

Victor Uno
Business Manager, Dublin, Calif., Local 595

Diana Limon Compliance Officer, Los Angeles Local 11

Russell Ponder
former Assistant Business Manager, Chicago Local 134

Karen Stoshnof
Assistant Business Manager, Calgary, Alberta, Local 254

Michael Yee
Treasurer, New York Local 3

Carolyn Williams Director, IBEW Human Services Department

Jan Schwingshakl
Director, IBEW Education Department