August 2010

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Lineman Training Pushes into Cyberspace

The 21st century offers myriad ways for people to earn degrees online. But training in heavy-duty industries—like power line construction—has almost always been exclusively hands-on.

Until now.

A joint effort between the NJATC and a Fortune 500 technology company means that aspiring union linemen of the future will not only practice pole-top rescues and cable splicing—they’ll add laptops to their arsenals to complete studies and simulations outside of the classroom.

A new Web-based, "blended" learning system sponsored by Salisbury—a Honeywell subsidiary—will allow students the freedom to tailor study time to their own schedules, receive focused feedback from instructors and maximize time in class performing challenging hands-on tasks.

"The programs will use animation technology to replicate a training environment," said NJATC Executive Director Mike Callanan. "Compare it to a new pilot who learns partly with a simulator—it’s a lot safer, easy to control and comes very close to conditions new linemen will work under."

The NJATC launched a prototype version of its online training in 2009 to satisfactory reviews from apprentices.

"Everyone moves at their own pace, and the ability to do our homework online can be helpful," said Philadelphia Local 126 first-year apprentice Ed O’Connor. "The industry is definitely changing, and new technology can help students and teachers stay better in touch about assignments and activities that would otherwise take valuable class time to discuss."

Initial topics for the learning program focus on transformer technology, personal protective grounding and other safety trainings.

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Second District Honors Fallen Laborer

Every year on April 3, Second District Vice President Frank Carroll takes some time to recall the ghastly construction accident that occurred in his native Bridgeport, Conn., in 1987.

Then business manager of Bridgeport Local 488, Carroll received a call that a floor of the L’Ambiance Plaza, under construction, had collapsed. Twenty-eight members of the trades were killed, including Donald Emanuel, a Local 488 electrician.

As the city mourned for victims of one of the nation’s worst construction accidents, public attention focused on the "lift-slab" construction method under which concrete floors are poured on the ground and lifted into place by construction cranes. After a safety investigation was completed, the practice was barred in the state.

"I remember that one of those killed was the 17-year-old son of an ironworker just there for the summer," says Carroll.

The trail of victims from the 1987 catastrophe spreads far beyond the graves of those who perished and, in the case of the L’Ambiance, the memorial that was erected by the building trades at the site of the tragedy.

The best-known of those left behind was David Wheeler. A 27-year-old member of the Laborers, Wheeler was working on a construction project nearby when the floor collapsed. "He was real thin and worked as a ‘mole’ squeezing between the floors looking for bodies," says Carroll.

Wheeler was permanently scarred by his rescue mission. A series of columns by Mike Daly in the Connecticut Post poignantly portrayed Wheeler’s struggle with post-traumatic stress syndrome and his slide into homelessness and death in 2006 at age 46. Wheeler never got to complete a book he was writing, entitled, "Hero at a Cost."

Since Wheeler’s death, Carroll—who knew him and had tried to help him through his troubles—sought to recognize his sacrifice by placing a stone next to the memorial for the fallen tradesmen of the L’Ambiance.

The opportunity came during the Second District Progress meeting, held in June in Bridgeport. Accompanied by International President Edwin D. Hill, Senior Executive Assistant Larry Neidig and city leaders, Carroll placed a stone, engraved with "David Wheeler, 1960-2006," and "Hero At A Cost" at L’Ambiance Plaza.

In a column in the Connecticut Post after the stone laying, Daly wrote, "Though many people forgot about Wheeler in the years after L’Ambiance, Carroll did not. He was the only labor leader to attend his funeral in 2006, the behavior of a stand-up guy."

Beyond remembering Wheeler, the IBEW was widely praised in Bridgeport media for bringing 330 progress meeting participants and guests to patronize businesses in the once-powerful industrial city that has seen its share of financial struggle.

In a letter to the editor of the Connecticut Post, Lorraine F. Scelfo, director of Sales and Marketing at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center, said, "…They [IBEW] could have gone anywhere from Newport, R.I., to the Maine shoreline … We just want more organizations and individuals to experience us firsthand, as the IBEW did. You will always be welcome here."

During the progress meeting , Carroll was presented the key to the city by Mayor Bill Finch, who spoke about how Bridgeport has benefited from the civic leadership of the IBEW and project labor agreements to renew its buildings.

Second District Vice President Frank Carroll, second from right, honored a local hero in a ceremony attended by Assistant to the President Larry Neidig, left, Bridgeport Parks Director Charles Carroll, President Ed Hill, Robert Carroll and CIR/Bylaws and Appeals Department Director Ricky Oakland.

Photo Credit: Connecticut Post photo by Ned Gerard

Metal Trades Leaders Boost Skills

Union leaders from across the spectrum beefed up their negotiation skills and legal knowledge in May at the Metal Trades Leadership Laws and Policies Training in Placid Harbor, Md.

Comprised of members from the IBEW and the sheet metal, plumbers, steamfitters, laborers and machinists unions, the five-day event featured in-depth instruction on honing collective bargaining strategies, coordinating meetings and understanding jurisdictional policy to increase cooperation between the various AFL-CIO affiliated trades.

"This is an opportunity to learn cutting-edge tactics to make the Metal Trades Department even stronger," said IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill.

The training course was launched in 2003 as a joint effort between the IBEW and the machinists union. Organizers are in the process of refining the program to make it available for leaders in all 17 unions affiliated with the Metal Trades Department.

IBEW attendees were: Amarillo, Texas, Local 602 member Clarence Rashada; Pascagoula, Miss., Local 733 Assistant Business Manager/ Organizer J.P. Mergenshroeder; Honolulu Local 1186 member Don Bongo; Portsmouth, N.H., Local 2071 member Paul O’Conner; and Dennis Phelps, IBEW Government Employees Department International Representative.

"The most important lesson learned was to work for the overall good of the council, and not just strictly for each local union," Phelps said.

Bongo, O’Conner, Mergenshroeder and Rashada are all officers of their respective Metal Trades Councils.

Five IBEW leaders—along with members of other trades—attended a Metal Trades training in May.

Spouse Thanks Union for Medical Treatments

Margaret Halling, a lifelong Republican, says, "I gave my husband hell all of his life for being a union man." Dale Halling, an outside lineman and member of Topeka, Kan., Local 304, would have none of his wife’s union bashing. He even once tried to organize the housekeeping staff in a motel that Margaret owned.

After 38 years of marriage, the Hallings have reached something of a truce over unions. The thaw came after Margaret was diagnosed with tonsil cancer in 2007 and turned to her husband’s medical insurance to cover treatments to shrink a tumor that had grown to the size of a fist. Her type-two diabetes rendered the cancer even more dangerous.

"I had to take two shots, one costing $5,000 and another $7,500 and the [union-negotiated] plan paid every penny," says Halling. On two occasions during her treatment, Halling was charged deductibles but was reimbursed.

"For a person who has been so mouthy about unions, what can I say?" says Halling, a regular reader of The Electrical Worker. "I used to be ashamed to tell people that my husband was a lineman, but I have to say, ‘Unions take care of their people.’"

Cancer-free for a year, Halling has found herself in situations where people are cutting down unions. "I tell them I am thankful for what the union did for me during my treatments," she says.

Dale and Margaret Halling