October 2010

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Sister Electricians Campaign for California's Future

National attention is focusing on Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, two former CEOs pouring their personal fortunes into Republican campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate in California. Money bellows loudly in politics. But the outcome of these elections in the Golden State could well be determined by activists who have more energy and more passion than cash, workers like journeymen wiremen Jane Templin and Jennifer Murphy, members of Los Angeles Local 11.

Murphy, who topped out of her apprenticeship last June, was one of 50 local members who attended a grassroots political training school conducted by Whitman's opponent for governor, Jerry Brown. She joined Templin, a 34-year member, legendary mentor, vice president of Local 11 and outreach director of Local 11's electrical training institute.

Involvement in November's election, says Murphy, is an investment to help make certain that labor's voice is never ignored by powerful office holders, or overcome by "greedy, anti-union profit vultures who are trying to take our lunch money away." She loves being part of Local 11's growing club of activists, drawing comparisons between grassroots politics and the rules of the road.

"One motorcyclist on the freeway is easy to ignore," says Murphy. Cars will cut him off without even realizing it and some will do worse. "But when a big motorcycle club travels together with tailpipes roaring, no one can ignore them. Cars stay a safe distance away and show some respect."

Respect is the motor for Templin's political activism. A former general foreman and 10-year, full-time senior JATC instructor, she says that when union members share issues and candidates' positions with their co-workers and families on a personal level, "it is much more meaningful than getting a flier in the mail."

Attending the IBEW Women's conference in July with their business manager and 11 women members of their local, Templin and Murphy compared their activist roots while discussing Local 11's progressive approach to engaging its base.

Templin, a tall and broad-shouldered grandmother, says her leadership skills were nurtured in the local. Self-confidence builds when one shares knowledge, she says.

A graduate of Evergreen State College, Murphy says she never made a choice to become an activist. A course on women in the workplace made her want to "build the world I was in and be a part of it," she says. She met Templin at a table where she picked up her apprenticeship application.

Templin says Murphy's skills in making connections, coalition-building and going member-to-member are outstanding and young members like her keep the veterans engaged.

Both women say that momentum has helped cultivate the responsive approach of Business Manager Marvin Kropke and other leaders to the 11,000-member local's diverse membership.

Templin, who now visits career fairs and promotes the apprenticeship's curriculum to teachers and school boards, says that interaction between men and women in the classroom and the workplace destroys stereotypes and encourages more members to succeed.

As they visit other union members to talk about the upcoming elections, Murphy and Templin know they have more minds to change.

Unemployed since September, along with one in seven Local 11 members, Murphy understands that some members are in a sour mood about politics.

Local 11 has been addressing job issues for nine to 10 years at every union meeting, says Murphy. Because of that proactive orientation, she says, unemployed members are more likely to engage in activities like taking banners out to nonunion jobs to support decent pay and benefits, or becoming involved in grassroots political campaigns.

Templin promotes day classes for unemployed members to gain additional skills and credentials, and has helped write grant proposals to fund training members on the street for new work. When the economic situation gets better, she says, they will be ahead of the game in getting jobs.

Addressing challenges on the economic front and the big money washing across her state's political contests, Murphy tells her fellow union members they have a lifetime to enjoy the rewards of an unwavering union, to be part of something bigger than them and "pass strength, dignity and tradition on to the next generation."

´╗┐Local 11 journeyman wireman Jennifer Murphy, left, attends a session of IBEW Women's Conference with the local's vice president,
Jane Templin.