May 2010

From the Officers
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Real Recovery Means Growth

With 27 percent of our inside members and 23 percent of our outside trades on the street, there's no way that the 2010 Construction Conference could or should have been any ordinary event.

The worst economy facing the Brotherhood since the Great Depression is showing some signs of picking up. That's why undreds of delegates came to Washington with the same question tugging at their gut: Will the IBEW take advantage of the recovery when it comes?

Abraham Lincoln once said that "History is not history unless it is the truth." And the nagging, sometimes hard-to-face truth of our own history is that every time we emerge from a downturn, the IBEW seems to have less of the market.

You've all heard the stories of how the organized construction industry only wanted the big jobs. And in doing so, we started losing the residential market virtually everywhere, except for a few pockets. Then we lost the smaller commercial projects like gas stations, fast food joints and shopping centers. Now, we are losing some of the big projects too—hospitals, industrial complexes, refineries, large office projects. More and more of them have the signs of nonunion electrical contractors hanging on their job sites.

If we're really concerned about tomorrow—if we really want to emerge from a recovery stronger, not weaker, we need an aggressive new playbook. And we need to start today.

Building broader and deeper market share in our industry—controlling more of the work—is the only way that we will be able to sustain the benefits of trade unionism that so many members and our families have enjoyed over generations. The IBEW can always best our nonunion competitors in skill and training. But if our composite price for journeymen and apprentices leave signatory contractors with uncompetitive bids, our skills and training will be wasting on the bench.

So we established new classifications—construction electrician and construction wireman—not to dilute our skills, but to win projects that were slipping through our fingers.

If you don't believe me, just ask Local 349 Business Manager and IEC member Bill Riley or Local 728 Business Manager David Svetlick (see front page story). They will tell you that new classifications and the more competitive composite rates that they make possible have put journeymen and apprentices to work—on jobs that they would not be doing were it not for the cost advantages that we negotiated.

Organizing the work and increasing our market share will take a strong chain of command combined with full buy-in from our loca l unions. So we are bringing our organizing program closer to home by appointing construction coordinators for each vice presidential district who will serve as liaisons between the vice president and the Membership Development Department.

Every construction local union will be required to have a full-time organizer. Our International Office will provide support from our Research and Information Technology Departments to help local unions keep track of what nonunion contractors are working in each jurisdiction.

By Labor Day, we expect that every construction local union in the Brotherhood will be signatory to an agreement, subject to review by the International, that addresses our ability to recover the work we are currently not doing.

Local agreements will continue to have distinct features based upon geography and other factors. But every such agreement must include certain features. They include: NEBF pension contributions, health care insurance, construction electrician and construction wireman job classifications, enabling language for the Code of Excellence, safety and health language, more portability for work that the local is not doing and training funds to update skills.

We must never forget that the IBEW Constitution calls for organizing all workers in the electrical trade. Over the past few years, more local unions have rediscovered this mission, but some still lag behind. And it's not just future members who are losing out, but our retired and soon-to-be-retired members.

More than a few delegates to the Construction Conference said that one of the most meaningful presentations was the one by Larry Bradley, executive secretary-treasurer of the NEBF. Wise investments have kept our fund relatively stable in tumultuous economic times. But Bradley clearly demonstrated that the only way to maintain current benefit levels and to ensure the NEBF's long-term strength is to grow its number of participants. That, brothers and sisters, means organizing, plain and simple.

They say habits are either the best of servants or the worst of masters. We are confident that by the time we convene next year's International Convention, our inside and outside local unions will be carrying along the hard evidence that we are creating the habit of winning.

Edwin D. Hill
International President

Lindell K. Lee
International Secretary-Treasurer