February 2011

Recovery Agreements Aid Organizing in York, Pa.
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Steve Selby, membership development coordinator for York, Pa., Local 229, checked out International President Hill's interview on recovery agreements (The Electrical Worker, Dec. 2010) while visiting the IBEW's Facebook page.

In the interview, President Hill described how the new job classifications of construction electrician and construction wireman have been developed to help locals increase market share, making signatory contractors more competitive, and increasing employment opportunities for journeymen and apprentices.

After reading a few of the posted comments that accused the International union of undermining the job security of journeyman wiremen by establishing new classifications, Selby had to respond.

"Such negativity!" posted Selby, who went on to talk about how Local 229's utilization of construction electricians and construction wiremen has helped to organize nonunion electrical contractors, increasing the local's share of small commercial jobs that members—who work primarily on heavy industrial and power house projects—had rarely performed.

Selby and Business Manager Matt Paules knew firsthand how difficult it had been to sign nonunion contractors in "top-down" campaigns before the introduction of recovery agreements.

Many contractors were impressed with the IBEW's training, but all of their employees couldn't easily fit into journeyman and apprentice classifications.

"We were turning potential members away and missing the possibility of organizing contractors because we simply did not have a classification to fit the potential member or all of the potential members at a given contractor," says Paules. It was time for organizing to conform to the market model in York.

Years ago, Paules, a former organizer, and his predecessor, Jim Dougherty, took a look in the mirror and decided that new strategies were needed to grow the union.

Dougherty knew that utilizing new classifications was essential. Paules will always remember Dougherty's response to skeptics. He said, "When Henry Miller was organizing the union, he didn't ask if workers were journeymen or apprentices. As long as a guy had a bag of wire nuts, they brought him in under the IBEW flag."

The local adopted the Pennsylvania Initiative's small works agreement in 2006, which included the CE/CW classifications. In 2007, Paules traveled to Miami to join organizers from across the country to launch the Florida Initiative, returning home with some new tactics.

Local 229 held industry nights—recruitment fairs for nonunion electricians and contractors—with decent participation, but most of the local's 22 CEs and CWs were brought in over the last six months as the local has deepened its use of recovery agreements.

In 2008, the local signed Pro Electric, a small nonunion contractor. While most of the company's original crew worked in alternative classifications, the company is now primarily employing journeymen, apprentices and teledata technicians and winning bids on federal and state prevailing wage projects.

"Without the new classifications," says Paules, "we never could have signed Pro Electric in the first place."

Using new classifications, Local 229 recently signed Stewartstown Electrical Service, a light commercial and residential service contractor, and another employer that specializes in residential and solar jobs.

Selby joined the local seven years ago after working for the area's largest nonunion contractor.

"We haven't sold our journeymen jobs down the river, like some on Facebook accuse," says Selby. Every local union, he says, needs to figure out how to make recovery agreements work. "It's about our bread and butter," he says.

Selby said workers in new classifications are given 30 days of work with a signatory contractor based upon their test scores. Some have proven to be unsuitable workers and were terminated. But others have excelled and entered the local's apprenticeship program.

Jeremy Shultz, a 25-year-old journeyman and a member of the local's executive board, joined Selby on Facebook defending the CE/CW program. Shultz says, "I understand that a lot of local unions don't have full employment like ours, but we landed jobs through integrating these guys that we wouldn't have gotten.

"The trash talking isn't helpful," Shultz says. "We need to be smart about the future and keep crew costs competitive."

A York, Pa., Local 229 composite crew installs solar panels at Kohl's department store in Hanover. Journeyman wiremen Shane Reese, left, and Bob Cidor are joined by apprentices Klinton Kohler, Wes Copenhaver and Chase Stewart and construction wireman Ron Hilbert.