November 2010

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Calif. Trolley Workers: IBEW's Other 'Linemen'

Three members of San Diego, Calif., Local 465 recently completed years of schooling and apprenticeship to become light-rail vehicle linemen for the city's trolley system—all while working the night shift at their jobs.

San Diego Trolley Inc. employees Carlos Casana, David Woolnough and Stephanie Suworow logged more than four years of class time and 8,000 hours of hands-on training in electronics, HVAC systems and semiconductors at San Diego City College. The company created the partnership with the school in the 1990s to offer a streamlined path for employees to boost their skills in maintaining a mass transit system that services as many as 110,000 riders a day.

The rigorous program sometimes demanded 19-hour days, including school, work and commuting. "It was the most challenging thing I've ever experienced, but I'm extremely happy with my pay increase," said Woolnough, 34. He said that his IBEW-negotiated contract offers wages and job security that he never received in his prior years working in the nonunion construction field.

The employees provide electrical and mechanical maintenance for the 134 cars in the company's light-rail fleet. The cars service 53 miles of track, and the system is widely popular with visitors to the area and residents alike.

Casana, 45—who immigrated to California with his family from Peru in 2003—graduated with top honors. "It was tough going, but enjoyable," he said. "It was common to be covered in grease and oil during our lunch hours while we broke out the books and calculators to get our assignments done."

The students received pay increases with each successful semester, and will continue to garner higher wages on the job every six months for the duration of their contract.

San Diego Local 465 members David Woolnough, left, and Carlos Casana, are now trolley linemen.