December 2010

Putting Members to Work:
President Hill Discusses Recovery Agreements
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The Electrical Worker recently sat down with International President Edwin D. Hill, to ask him some questions about the IBEW recovery program, the use of CEs and CWs and what it means for the future of the Brotherhood.

EW: What are construction electricians (CE) and construction wiremen (CW)?

Hill: These are classifications that we have assigned to those workmen that we hope to organize who do not possess the skills normally held by our journeyman wiremen and inside apprentices. There are many workmen and women doing electrical work who do not fit into the classifications contained in our collective bargaining agreements or possess the skills to be placed in those classifications, but they are still doing the work that we are not doing. We believe that to build a larger market share within the jurisdictions of IBEW local unions, we need to be able to put our members and prospective members on those jobs currently being done under wages and conditions less than those to be found to be standard. We have determined that it is in our best interest to rethink our position relating to work that we are not doing.

Modern business practices and technology mean that electrical work is no longer limited to journeymen and apprentices. Lower composite costs for our contractors who utilize CEs and CWs will make them more competitive and create a larger pool of work for our members. In short, CEs/CWs are new classifications reflecting alternative skill levels, and they allow crew mixes on jobs that make our signatory contractors competitive on work that we are not presently doing.

EW: Why should we be focused on expanding market share and organizing new members, when unemployment is already so high? Shouldn't we focus on putting our current members to work first?

Hill: We can't get our members back to work unless we start winning more jobs during the bidding process. If signatory contractors continue to lose projects to the open shop competition, it means no one in the IBEW will be working. Every time the economy enters a recession, we see a similar pattern. When work gets tight, union contractors have a tendency to stick it out in the market they are strong in, while the nonunion contractors go hunting for every opportunity out there, fighting us on our turf. When the economy picks up, they come out of it with a larger foothold in a sector that we once dominated. We need to break the cycle. Market share is power and the more we have of it means more work and better wages for our members. We can't afford to let open-shop contractors continue to erode the job opportunities of our members.

Incorporating CWs/CEs into our jobs model makes us more competitive during the bidding process, where, for the most part, we are getting bested by our nonunion competitors, costing our signatory contractor employees opportunities to provide for their families. The locals that have been using alternate classifications, CWs/CEs , are providing solid proof that their use provides an entry onto jobs that we would not have had a chance with prior to their use. The use of these alternative classifications, CWs/CEs, provide for successful bids and employment opportunities for our members, including journeymen.

EW: Why are CEs/CWs and recovery programs a requirement in each local union?

Hill: First it should be stressed that recovery agreements are designed to give local unions an avenue by which to regain the work that they are presently not doing. On work that they are doing, the use of CWs/CEs is not a requirement or a mandate and the determination as to what work would fall under the recovery agreement is determined by the local union with assistance of employers and the vice president's office. But to be clear about it, alternate classifications like intermediate journeymen or IJs, helpers, material handlers and residential electricians have been around for years. In some cases these intermediate classifications were used to lower composite costs on jobs. Too often, however, workers were stuck in intermediate classifications with insufficient avenues to promote to apprentice and journeyman jobs. In other cases, local unions funded market recovery to subsidize signatory contractors, but still ended up not growing their market share.

Recovery agreements using CEs and CWs are a universal tool that can be used throughout the U.S. and Canada to capture the work not being done under a collective bargaining agreement and better reflect the diversity of skills and qualifications of electricians currently at work in the local markets. Unlike prior intermediate classifications, we are not building a permanent second tier in our union, but a means to better control our jurisdictions. It's a simple mathematical fact: if we pull in workers who are already doing electrical work in our jurisdictions, we will control more market share than bringing in workers from outside of our industry.

EW: How will the program be monitored? Who will hold local unions and contractors accountable for carrying it out?

Hill: Each of the 11 vice presidential districts has an organizing coordinator to help business managers and officers implement their locals' recovery agreements. The coordinators serve as links between local leaders and the Construction and Member-ship Development Department to keep the program moving forward. Like any other collective bargaining agreement, it's the job of the business manager and the members to make sure their employers are sticking to their end of the bargain.

EW: How do you answer members who say that their locals already have good market share and they will be taking a step backward by bringing in CEs and CWs?

Hill: We are going after the markets that we don't have. A local may have strong density in industrial and large commercial work, for instance. They may even build a McDonald's or a Dairy Queen now and then. But if nine out of 10 McDonald's and Dairy Queens are being built nonunion, that's a market that we need to get into and CEs/CWs and lower composite labor costs are the tools that will enable our signatory contractors to move up in that market and put more of our members to work. The other realization in the marketplace for some locals is that they control the work in the city center, but outside of the core market, their share drops off quickly. If every member asks the question: "Will this program build man-hours in my local?" the answer is yes. It's the right move to make.

Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing conversation with IBEW members. Soon, each member in the construction branch will be receiving a DVD containing a special message from President Hill regarding the use of recovery agreements. We look forward to hearing your thoughts. E-mail us at

Read more: IBEW Charts Path to Recapture Construction Market

Read more: California Local Builds Consensus on
New Classifications

Edwin D. Hill
International President