June 2011

California Recovery Agreement Wins
Skechers Distribution Center Project
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As North American-based manufacturing has declined and imported products have flooded our shores, the construction of large-scale distribution centers to receive those products and dispatch them to the marketplace has created jobs for construction workers. For IBEW members, the question is: Who will get the work?

Leaders of Riverside, Calif., Local 440 and signatory contractor Dynalectric heard that Skechers, the top-selling U.S. footwear company, was building a half-mile-long distribution center in Moreno Valley to handle imports coming through the port of Long Beach. Working in a highly competitive market, the parties knew the job would go nonunion unless they could structure a winning bid.

Dynalectric, a subsidiary of EMCOR, had built a solid relation over the years with Wynright Intralogistics for installation of the company's automated conveyor and sorting systems which were destined for the Skechers facility.

Bernie Balland, Local 440 business and membership development representative, praises the close ties between the two companies. But, he says, "A relationship will not always guarantee the award of a contract."

Three months ago, as Dynalectric's window of opportunity was closing on the Skechers project, the signatories sat down and decided to put the union's recovery agreement to work to fashion a competitive composite rate. Their efforts were successful.

Today, Dynalectric's crew on the distribution center project consists of two general foremen, four foremen, 12 journeyman wiremen, seven apprentices, three construction wiremen, eight construction electricians and one material handler trainee. All trainees are registered with the state. All construction electricians are state-certified.

Everyone on the composite crew is contributing to meeting completion milestones on the job. And the company is making contributions on behalf of all workers to the local's training, health and welfare funds and the National Electrical Benefit Fund, as well as pension and annuity contributions for those workers eligible.

The distribution center is the first on the mostly-rural side of Moreno Valley. At city council hearings considering the project, some residents showed up in opposition, contending that horse trails would be disrupted and the 100 truck-a-day traffic expected for the facility will add to smog.

With high unemployment and a still painfully high mortgage foreclosure rate for most residents of Moreno Valley, "the real issue was jobs," says Local 440 President Roger Roper, who is also assistant business manager. He and Local 440 Business Manager Robert Frost called on local members to speak up at the hearings in favor of the project.

"We had up to 50 members come out," says Roper. Some stayed until 1 a.m. to be heard. The city council first voted not to support the development of the distribution facility. After new council elections were held, however, the incoming council majority backed the project, with overwhelming support from Moreno Valley residents who live in the more thickly-settled areas outside of the rural section.

Jim Brooks, a journeyman wireman general foreman with 28 years in the Brotherhood, says, "We're the only union contractor on the project," the first segment of the planned 200-acre Highland Fairview Corporate Park. "Just the fact that we are here is a sign of success," says Brooks, who works for Dynalectric's KDC Systems division.

Brooks remembers the days when market recovery consisted of the IBEW offering contractors cuts in journeyman and apprentice rates to secure new work. Employing the CW/CE job descriptions was a new challenge, says Brooks. But, after three months, using the new classifications, "we have met and exceeded our expectations," he says.

Paul Aguilar, a 22-year member and former Local 440 organizer, is working on the Skechers project alongside workers assigned to the new classifications. "They are good guys. Most of them have a lot of experience," says Aguilar, who previously worked with Santa Ana Local 441 Business Development Representative C.J. Johnson as that local expanded its market share using recovery agreements. (See "California Local Builds Consensus on New Classifications," The Electrical Worker, December 2010).

Local 440 staff have tried to convince contractors to employ a small retail works agreement, but many consider the program too unstructured for their needs. The recovery agreement offers the potential for upgrading workers' skills over time, enhancing contractors' competitiveness. "And the new guys are realizing that the IBEW is not just another job, but a career," says Aguilar.

Vince Ingalls, a third generation journeyman wireman with 31 years in the trade, hasn't seen a whole lot of work over the last three years. Ingalls, whose daughter Vanessa Ingalls-Llamado is a Local 440 apprentice, says the bid on the distribution center project wouldn't have been won without lower composite rates. He is concerned that use of newer classifications be properly policed by the local to see that ratios between classifications are appropriate.

"We have to do something to get more work," he says. "But it's all of our jobs to see that things are done right."

Balland knows that the recovery agreements mark a cultural shift for many members, but he sees benefits from the program extending far beyond the present.

As Local 440 members participated in one of thousands of rallies on April 4 to commemorate the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and defend collective bargaining rights, they were joined by two construction wiremen, Alfonso Barajas and Ricky Jensen.

Jensen had interviewed for the Local 440 apprenticeship program twice, but was unsuccessful because of the slow work forecast. He left his nonunion job immediately when offered an opportunity to work as a CW. Jensen finally became an indentured apprentice in June and will enter classes next year.

Says Balland, "Alfonso and Ricky are showing that they are not just in the IBEW for a paycheck, but want to belong to something greater and help make a difference."

Members of Riverside, Calif., Local 440 have gained jobs and a new competitive position for their local by working in composite crews. From left are Paul Aguilar, journeyman; James Torres Sr., construction electrician; Oswaldo Sanchez, construction electrician; and Jason Batte, journeyman.