January 2011

Getting Involved Locally, 101
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Whether it's in politics or collective bargaining, you're either at the table or you're on the menu. Nov. 2 is history—but people still need to get out there and raise their voices. Here's some practical advice from Brian Baker and Juanita Luiz of the IBEW Political/Legislative Department in Washington, D.C.

Attend Public Meetings

Local meetings of groups like your city council are open to the public, and these are prime opportunities to get out the message of good jobs.

"These legislators in the state and city council, they're the same as us," said Baker, department director. "Rank-and-file members need to go to these meetings. This is a great opportunity to expose lawmakers to critical labor issues."

How? Say your city is going to put up a new building, and city hall wants public input. Go to meetings and ask the council, "Are you willing to use responsible builder language? Use a project labor agreement? Hire local labor?" Talk with your business manager to help craft your message. And wear your IBEW shirt to the meeting.

Get Face Time with Your Elected Leaders

When representatives and senators aren't on Capitol Hill, they're back in their local offices.

This is the time to talk with representatives one-on-one about the issues. If you're in construction, where we're facing high unemployment, they need to hear that the reason you're not working is because of the economy.

"You're who they represent, and they need to be reminded. Tell them that you come from this community, that you vote here, that you have a family and a career here, and they will take you seriously," Luiz says. "Ask your lawmakers about their stance on unemployment benefits and remind them that you want to be working."

Become Your Own Representative

There are plenty of opportunities for everyday people to become change agents in their communities, whether it's being active in local city councils, school boards, business clubs or charity organizations.

"We have several hundred IBEW members nationwide serving in local public offices," Luiz said. "And anything you can do to increase your own power—whether it's getting a spot on the city council or running for office of a local charity—is helpful."

Change Begins at Home

"Members should always remember that the union is not the business manager or the International Office," Baker said. "The union is the people who make it work."

Still, it's always good to communicate with your business manager about how to flesh out your message and how to get support from fellow members.

"If you don't feel confident or prepared enough to go to city council meetings, that's OK," Luiz said. There are lots of things to do at the local, like volunteering to help the registrar or—if your local union doesn't have a registrar—becoming one yourself.

Do you have ideas about how to get active in your community? We want to hear from you! E-mail your thoughts to IbewPoliticalDept@ibew.org.

Read more: Fighting for Our Future: Putting Jobs First

Read more: Now What? How Will 'Wave' Election Affect Workers?

Read more: Electoral Divide a Challenge to Working Families

Read more: Jobs: A Good Investment

Read more: How NOT to Cut the Deficit

Workers still need to make their voices heard.