December 2010

California Local Builds Consensus on
New Classifications
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Orange County in Southern California is a densely populated section of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. When IBEW Local 441 Business Manager Doug Chappell, whose jurisdiction covers Orange County, saw that the local's share of the market was slipping, he took steps to get back that work.

Through careful consensus building and keeping the membership and contractors informed every step of the way, Chappell has used the newer job classifications to bring nonunion electricians into the IBEW, put more journeymen to work and improve signatory contractors' competitiveness in bidding for projects.

Business Development Representative Claude Johnson monitors the program of recovery agreements for Local 441. "The key component in building consensus was letting members know that man-hours for journeymen and apprentices have increased because we have effectively deployed construction electricians and construction wiremen," he said.

Johnson keeps an up-to-date list of hours worked by his local's classifications in his pocket to answer questions from members.

135,000-Plus Man Hours Recovered

Since beginning to sign up and dispatch CEs and CWs within the last year, Local 441 has recovered 135,120 man hours of work on 27 projects employing 132 journeymen inside wiremen, 61 apprentices, 31 construction electricians and 63 construction wiremen.

New classifications have been utilized at a hotel under construction outside of Disneyland and a new corporate headquarters for Taco Bell. Eighteen employers are actively using the program.

Signatory CSI Electrical Contractors outbid two nonunion contractors, Berg Electric and Landmark Electric, by lowering composite labor rates through the use of new classifications, winning a 25,000-man-hour project building a biomedical lab for Dendreon. Most projects using new classifications are smaller, like 4,000-manhour job for Kimberly Clark.

Training for Success

Johnson, who has directed classes on using new classifications at meetings of Southern California locals, and once at a Ninth District progress meeting, says the local is catching up on the need for a more structured program by instituting an orientation session that includes online mathematics refresher training, CPR, OSHA and first-aid courses for workers in the newer classifications.

"The CE/CW work force is very diverse," Johnson said. "Most participants are excited and can't wait to get in the classroom for more electrical theory."

Leobardo Ramos, 26, has been working as a construction wireman since July on a tenant improvement project in Newport Beach. Introduced to the program by his brother, a Local 441 apprentice, Ramos says he has been well received by journeymen and apprentices and is hoping to follow his brother into the apprenticeship program.

Assessing Progress of CEs/CWs

Johnson regularly sends reports out to employers to be returned to the local assessing the performance of CEs and CWs. The local's apprentices are regularly evaluated, he says, and the same need exists for the newer classifications.

"I need an honest assessment," says Johnson. "If a member isn't passing, I need to know. But overall, individual progress has been impressive."

Eight construction wiremen have been interviewed and passed tests for the apprenticeship program. Some construction electricians have elevated to journeymen status. Fully integrating the newer workers into the local and making them feel welcomed doesn't happen automatically.

Leader 'Relentless' in Seeking Buy-In

"Doug Chappell's philosophy is that you can't just turn over a cheaper wage package to NECA and expect it to work," said Assistant Business Manager Rick Cruzen.

Chappell meets with signatory employers one-on-one to get their buy-in, says Cruzen. He also meets with estimators. Chappell speaks with members about recovery agreements before they are implemented and he meets with non-signatory employers on a weekly basis.

"Doug is relentless," Cruzen said. "He's taken political heat, but he's trying to gain market share because he knows we are at the point of survival."

Chappell won re-election in October by an overwhelming margin.

Local 441's earlier experimentation with intermediate classifications and market recovery helped leaders stay focused on making CEs and CWs work this time around.

After instituting an IJ classification years ago, Local 441 embarked on an unfunded market recovery program. On some jobs, wages for journeymen were reduced by as much as eight dollars an hour. While IJs could be bumped up to journeyman wages, there was no method for them to enter the journeyman apprenticeship.

Later, the local instituted a "retail journeyman" classification. Yet, even in cases where solid prospective journeymen were hired or recruited, there was, once again, no way to move them into journeymen jobs.

Progress Answers Naysayers

The CE/CW program can't solve all of Local 441's problems or a sour economy. The city of Irvine, says Johnson, once issued 50 permits a month for projects over 1,000 square feet. Now the average has shrunk to 10.

Out of 2,149 total members, 230 inside wiremen are unemployed, along with 60 voice-data-video installers and technicians. No apprentices are on layoff. The local, boosted by the use of new classifications, accepted 15 apprentices from other jurisdictions.

Opponents of the CE/CW program feed off negative stereotypes, says Johnson.

"I would love to visit other locals and talk about the program," he said. "You don't see any 441 members walking around with stickers on their hats badmouthing CEs and CWs."

Read more: IBEW Charts Path to Recapture Construction Market

Read more: President Hill Discusses Recovery Agreements

Man-hours for journeymen and apprentices have increased in Orange County, Calif., as Local 441 has effectively deployed construction electricians and construction wiremen.

Orange County, Calif., Local 441 journeyman inside wireman Anthony Herman, right, has worked with journeyman foreman Glenn Lanksbury, center, and Alberto Cossio, who entered the CE/CW program in 2009,  on a composite crew, part of the local's effort to recover more than 135,000 man-hours of work.