August 2010

IBEW Video Makes a Splash on the Web
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Max is one of the senior workers at a nonunion plant—owned by a company that is slashing benefits to enrich its top brass while giving workers anxiety about their financial security.

Max’s response? Organize.

But there’s a hitch: the company has hired a union-busting lawyer—the appropriately named Ralph Cheatham—and dispatched its no-nonsense corporate pit bull to intimidate Max and keep him away from union organizers. At a conference room meeting that looks more like a prisoner interrogation, Max sweats and stews through his inquisition, taunted with lines about how workers in Vietnam could do his job for less while he endures threats of a plant closure. Behind him, his physically imposing supervisor glowers, biceps flexed.

Welcome to "Workplace Democracy: Corporate Style," an IBEW-produced video that dramatizes the pressures and obstacles that individual workers frequently endure in an organizing campaign. The three-minute short has garnered accolades on popular blogs and is the IBEW’s most viewed video of the year—with more than 5,000 hits on the union’s official YouTube channel.

"We wanted to counter the spots that you see on TV and the Web from the other side," said IBEW Media Department Director Jim Spellane, who wrote the screenplay. "The enemies of labor, the people—they’ve done dramatizations to try to show how unions will intimidate in a card check situation, which is totally fictional and bogus. They’ve even hired actors from ‘The Sopranos’ to try to make the unions look fierce—which is ironic, considering those actors are union members.

"We wanted to show how little power an individual worker has when their employer and the forces of wealth are arrayed against them," Spellane said. "Many companies in the United States have gone extremely far in their efforts to squash workers’ efforts to organize, and we wanted to shine a light on that."

The Media Department has ramped up video production in the past year-and-a-half, offering professional-grade profiles about the IBEW’s role in NASA’s shuttle missions, the latest in renewable energy technologies and an in-depth history of the union’s founder, Henry Miller. But "Workplace Democracy" marks the first time the IBEW has moved into dramatic territory.

"With the changing face of media today, we recognize that people want to be told a story," Spellane said. "There’s plenty of straightforward messaging out there, but this was a different way to get some attention, reach a wider audience and make people think about the issue. The characters in the video are a bit exaggerated for laughs—but some people have said it reminds them of exact situations they’ve been in."

"Workplace Democracy" was entirely conceived, written, filmed, edited and produced in the IBEW Media Department. The performers in the film are union actors who said that the issue of on-the-job intimidation is one that should resonate with many viewers.

"The writing, directing, acting and ‘look’ of the piece reflect what’s going on in the workplace today," said Bill Thomas, who plays Max, the plant worker. "The depictions of bullying techniques management often employ to intimidate workers from organizing are spot-on and presented in a fun way."

The video was featured prominently on blogs like The Huffington Post, The Daily Kos and the official AFL-CIO site, receiving thousands of hits.

Viewers posted positive comments about the short on the IBEW’s Facebook page and the union’s YouTube site. Dana Baker-Hill, one of about 12,000 Facebook users who "like" the IBEW, wrote: "I would love to see the time come back when union members could actually feel secure in standing up against the [corporations] they work for … without fear of losing their jobs."

YouTube commenter camarosbob posted: "Real workplace democracy means no threats or interference to employees who want to collectively make their lives safer, healthier and better for their colleagues and their families."

Educators have taken note, too. National Labor College professor and activist Elise Bryant has a background in theater and said the woozy images of the corporate representatives floating over Max’s head provide "the strongest part of [the] narrative."

"Provocateurs are effective because they instill doubt and fear that the worker carries back into the workplace," Bryant said.

Media Department International Representative Mark Brueggenjohann said there’s a simple reason why the video has seen widespread success so far.

"The theme hit home," said Brueggenjohann, who co-produced the piece. "It struck the right chord. I think that something that rings true will be successful, and our message rings true."

Visit to watch "Workplace Democracy: Corporate Style." Under the video player, click the arrow pointing toward the right to reveal a link to the clip. Or watch it on the Electrical Worker’s YouTube channel at

Seen the video? Shared it with friends? Tell us more about how you’ve helped "Workplace Democracy" go viral at

Images from the IBEW-produced video "Workplace Democracy: Corporate Style" dramatically display the chilling effect captive audience meetings have on workers trying to organize.