September 2010

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Illinois IBEW Legislator Lisa Dugan:
'My Journey is Our Journey'

Few of the delegates at an early morning session of the IBEW Women's Conference had heard of Lisa Dugan, a sister journeyman inside wireman.

But they cheered Dugan, a four-term member of the Illinois House of Representatives, after IBEW Human Services Director Carolyn Williams listed some of her accomplishments during decades of public service and pro-worker activism.

"This has not just been my journey. This is our journey," said Dugan. A member of Joliet Local 176, who has served on the boards of dozens of non-profits, Dugan has been recognized as legislator of the year by several business and labor groups.

Long before entering her apprenticeship in 1979, encouraged by three senior union men she calls her "journeymen angels," Dugan was faced with a choice between the advice of her grandmothers who said she should follow her dreams—regardless of what society thought –and others who, she says, needed to be taught to "take the blinders off and open up to a society that is inclusive for women and minorities."

"My journeymen angels didn't tell me about the other guys," said Dugan, laughing. On her first job, a general foreman told her: "If you ask me, Missy, you should be home taking care of your children and cooking dinner for your husband."

"I didn't ask you, and my name is Lisa," replied Dugan—who remembers digging "trenches to nowhere" and sweeping so many floors on construction sites that "I should have been in Good Housekeeping magazine."

One of only two women in her class, Dugan gained apprentice of the year honors in her second year. During her third year, while pregnant with her second daughter, Dugan advocated changing her local's bylaws on temporary disability to include pregnancy while continuing her pursuit of excellence and leadership in the trade.

She recalls opening her first meeting as superintendent on a 40-man project. Dugan told her startled male co-workers, some of whom attempted to make her early years difficult, "It's fortunate for you that I am all about the IBEW," not about holding grudges for past slights.

A serious injury on the job in 1993 forced Dugan to leave the electrical trade. She deepened her community activism, taught a course on women in non-traditional jobs at the local community college and won a campaign for trustee in the Village of Bradley, 60 minutes from Chicago.

Her labor-management efforts were instrumental in pushing through a "Buy Local-Hire Local" resolution in Kankakee County.

In 2003, a member of the Illinois House asked Dugan to accept an appointment to finish the term of a legislator who had retired. She accepted.

"Politics is a strange game," says Dugan, "But there comes a time when labor needs to have a strong voice in government. And no one is better suited to speak for us than us." Making it through her apprenticeship was still her greatest accomplishment, says Dugan.

Dugan focuses on keeping close contact with constituents. She is often available for "coffee shop stops" up and down her jurisdiction. "I'm very hands-on and work 24-7," she says, often meeting at 6 a.m. with workers and farmers before they start the day's labor and she heads to her office.

In 2003, Dugan established a Community Service Scholarship Program to recognize students who have taken a leadership role in their community. The scholarship provides financial assistance, donated from the lawmaker's salary, to one senior from each high school in her district.

Because union members live all over her district, they are a powerful force that truly "brings the team together," she says.

"Lisa is a great sister, a great friend and a true never-forgot-where-she-came-from union person," says Local 176 Business Manager Steve Magruder. Dugan, he says, was instrumental in winning responsible bidder legislation in electrical construction. And her advocacy helped win prevailing wage provisions and apprenticeship training requirements in enterprise zones where tax-increment financing is utilized.

Re-elected in 2004, 2006 and 2008, Dugan is currently facing a challenge from a Republican and a Green Party candidate. Despite the well-publicized troubles facing Democrats in Illinois and nationally, she is upbeat.

"We can fix Illinois and we can fix what America needs to move forward," says Dugan, who rips into those in U.S. politics who contend that a strong labor movement hurts the U.S. economy. Reality is reality, she says. "This country is built and will stay strong because of hard-working men and women."

Lisa Dugan, four-term member of the Illinois House of Representatives, is a journeyman wireman member of Joliet, Ill., Local 176.