March 2010

Local Initiatives Enhance Diversity, Community
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Here are a few examples of locals that honor the union's diversity and build stronger links with surrounding communities. We will be reporting on others in future issues of The Electrical Worker and

Verizon Locals Bargain for Family Benefits

As chairman of a Verizon-IBEW advisory council on training and family benefits, Business Agent Clyde Dickinson, East Windsor, N.J., Local 827, had a problem. Verizon agreed to continue funding the program begun in the 1990s. But, if the money were used to subsidize daycare for members' children—at current costs—there would be no funds left over to support the needs of members who have no children at home. A good thing could end up being divisive.

So Dickinson, a co-worker, and a fellow advisory council member from Philadelphia Local 1944 joined with their employer to brainstorm a solution that considered the diverse needs of the telecommunications work force.

Some members are scheduled to work on days when their children are out of school. Others are scrambling to care for aging parents. Members of the "sandwich generation" often have both responsibilities. So the locals bargained for all workers to qualify for funds providing up to 120 hours annually to cover child care or nursing care for aging dependents.

The joint program gives workers access to a database that rates the quality of child care and elder care vendors. Current benefits also include a free-of-charge online homework assistance service for students, giving some relief to parents who have already put in a long day at work.

Debra Naugle, the union's liaison to the family program, says funds for training in new technologies and careers and the family support provided by the joint program are more needed than ever before. "At one time, Ma Bell provided cradle to grave benefits. Things have changed," she says.

Los Angeles Community/Faith-Based Construction Initiative

When Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa was campaigning for office, the one-time labor organizer traveled to minority communities and promised to do something about high unemployment. "We finally had someone in office that didn't see organized labor as a ‘special interest,' but as a valuable resource to improving our city," says Local 11 Treasurer Eric Brown.

Brown and other labor leaders met with the mayor's representatives and religious and civic leaders of minority communities, engaging in frank discussions about how to bring increasing numbers of African-American and Hispanic residents into the trades.

"Villaraigosa said he wanted to make the [construction] crane the official bird of Los Angeles and he developed a progressive building agenda," says Brown. Project labor agreements on work for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the airport and the port carried local hire requirements. But special efforts needed to be launched to prepare many applicants to pass necessary tests to succeed in the trades.

The Los Angeles branch of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus set up Saturday study sessions at Local 11's training facility. Some Local 11 activists traveled to local churches for weekly mentoring sessions.

"Residents got to see the intensity of our training. You could see it their eyes," says Brown, that many were thinking, "We want to be a part of this."

The construction market has slowed, but local hire requirements are still in place and Local 11 is continuing to prepare a diverse group of workers to enter the trades. "Some of our new members will be stars," says Brown. Many have already succeeded despite being placed in schools with oversized classes and facing street violence in their communities. "They are deserving people who have the foundation to succeed and just need a little help."

Portland, Ore., Local Restores African-American Landmark

Donna Hammond, president of the Portland, Ore., chapter of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, cherishes her memories of celebrations at the Billy Webb Elks Lodge, the most renowned landmark of the city's African-American community.

"The Gathering," an annual event at the building—which opened in the 1920s as the "Colored YWCA" amidst opposition by white residents—reminded her of homecomings that she attended with her parents in their native Arkansas, bringing together residents who had moved away but wanted to stay close to their roots. But, like others in the community, Hammond feared that, without major restoration, the building that also hosted USO services for black soldiers in World War II could be lost.

Working with a local signatory minority contractor, Local 48 sent a journeyman and two apprentices to apply their skills to upgrading the Elks Lodge's electrical system as part of a $1 million restoration project.

"Our work tremendously enhanced Local 48's reputation and contacts in the African-American community," says Hammond, who teaches cultural competency training courses in her municipality.