June 2011

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New Hampshire Utility Workers Sign First Contract

After nearly nine months of contentious negotiations, warehouse workers at the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative ratified their first contract in March.

The four warehouse employees had first contacted Manchester, Maine, Local 1837—which represents more than 80 linemen and other employees at the member-owned utility—last year. Management had implemented cutbacks, but only IBEW members had the power to sit down at the table with the company to negotiate the terms.

"Union members ended up with a much better deal, which made the union advantage crystal clear," says Local 1837 organizer Matt Beck.

The workers quickly signed up, but management balked at negotiating a first contract.

"They didn't want them to be under the master agreement with the rest of the employees," says Local 1837 Assistant Business Manager Tom Ryan.

Both parties finally reached agreement on a separate contract, which included a 3 percent wage increase and formal pay scales.

"Pay was pretty much arbitrary before the contract," Beck says. "Seniority didn't count."

At the same time New Hamp-shire Electric Cooperative employees finalized their first contract, Local 1837 members at the Granite Ridge power plant near Londonderry successfully negotiated their second, giving them a more than 9 percent wage increase over the life of the three-year contract, an extra paid holiday, and streamlined grievance procedures.

The more than 20 employees first approached Local 1837 in 2006 because of poor working conditions and abusive managers.

"Working conditions were horrendous," says Business Manager Cynthia Phinney. "Management kept changing the rules by the day, so an employee who was told to do something a certain way one day would get in trouble for doing the same thing the next."

While it took a year to get their first contract, negotiations on its renewal took only weeks. "Things went a lot smoother this time around," Ryan says. "Both sides were a lot more comfortable with the collective bargaining process."

Sears Technicians Join IBEW in Alaska

When service technicians for Sears in Alaska decided they needed a voice on the job, they "Googled" to find the union right for them.

One of the first items to come up on the Internet search was a 2006 story on the IBEW's Web site about Sears technicians in Colorado and Wyoming who joined Denver Local 68. (See "Big Win in West… Sears Service Workers Vote IBEW," www.ibew.org, August 18, 2006)

"They read about employees getting a 3-percent wage increase, strong job security and, most importantly, some say in their workplace," says Anchorage Local 1547 Lead Organizer Dennis Knebel. "That was all they needed to check out the IBEW for themselves."

Organizing the technicians—who install and maintain Sears home appliances—was a challenge. The 15 employees mostly worked from home, getting their service assignments from the company via computer each morning. Spread out from Anchorage to Fairbanks—a 350-mile distance—they rarely interacted with each other, Knebel says.

Organizers relied on e-communications to bring the unit together, creating an e-mail list and using video conferencing to connect workers across the miles.

"Local 1547 Business Representative John Ferree would get the guys together in Fairbanks, set up a camera and hook them up with the Anchorage group online," Knebel says.

After a few weeks, the workers voted 9-6 in an NLRB-administered election. Negotiations on the first contract began in May.

Sears technicians are negotiating their first contract after voting to join Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547. From left are Josh Hoxie, Randall Estes, Raul Rodriguez, Garret Van Eck, Dominic Comerate and Sergey Rossolov.

Recovery Program Helps Michigan Local Through
Tough Times

No state in the nation has been slammed harder by the recession than Michigan, which is still struggling with double-digit unemployment and a declining manufacturing sector.

Members of Bay City Local 692 are not only dealing with the economic downturn but intense competition from the nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors. Nearby Midland is a state center for ABC, and nonunion shops periodically outbid signatory contractors, keeping the local's market share under 50 percent.

"We lost our ability to compete in almost every sector—industrial, commercial and residential," says Local 692 Business Manager Mark Bauer.

But, Bauer says, things are beginning to turn around, thanks to the adoption of the IBEW's recovery program. The use of alternative classifications has brought new work to the local, putting dozens of out-of-work journeymen and apprentices back on the job.

One of the biggest projects was last year's $30 million expansion of the Midland Country Club, a job that put 20 Local 692 members to work.

"We absolutely would not have gotten that job without the use of construction electricians and construction wiremen," Bauer says.

CEs and CWs are alternative job classifications assigned to electricians who do not possess the skills normally held by journeymen wiremen and inside apprentices whose multi-year course of study is set by National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee curriculum.

The project would have gone completely nonunion without the use of alternative classifications, he says.

"It made us competitive and put us in the game for the work," Bauer said.

New classifications were also key in the local's successful bid this winter to build a new $32 million business services center in Midland.

"We're talking 30 jobs right there," Bauer says.

The use of alternative classifications isn't new to the local, which had an intermediate journeymen category for years, formally adopting CEs and CWs four years ago as part of an aggressive effort to win back market share.

Responding to those who say CEs/CWs take jobs that should be going to journeymen Bauer says, "For us, the recovery program has created jobs for IBEW journeymen—by making us more competitive, it has won us projects we wouldn't have gotten without it."

"We would have had more than 30 members entering their second year of unemployment without using CEs and CWs," he says.

The recovery program has also given the local the opportunity to win over nonunion electricians who are doing the work the union should be doing. In Michigan, novice electricians who are not in an apprenticeship program can be licensed by the state as residential electricians, but the traditional two-tier journeyman/apprentice job classification made it difficult to recruit these workers to the IBEW.

CEs/CWs are given the opportunity to boost their skills at Local 692's training center and advance through its apprenticeship program.

And with new CEs/CWs bringing along with them the names of friends and family still working nonunion, the local is developing an extensive list of potential members at nonunion contractors throughout its jurisdiction.

"The lousy economy limits how many people we can take in right now, but as soon as the work starts to pick up, we have a network of nonunion electricians our organizers can start targeting right away," Bauer says.

"If we just sit back and wait for the next big job to come along, that's what we'll be doing, waiting," says Local 692 member Tom Bartosek. "The world is constantly changing and we have to change with it."

Municipal Workers Choose IBEW in New Jersey

With all of the controversy surrounding public employees and their benefits, are they more likely to seek union representation or get scared and run in the other direction?

If municipal workers in Kinnelon, a wealthy northern New Jersey borough, are any indication, more public workers will be seeking the advocacy and protection of unions.

In March, the state's Public Employees Relations Commission granted 16 Kinnelon non-supervisory white collar workers their request to be represented by Jersey City Local 164. Since their successful petition to the commission, more co-workers have expressed interest in organizing.

The vote in favor of union representation came in response to an ordinance passed by the Kinnelon Borough Council that discontinued health care coverage for two part-time workers who had been previously promised such coverage. White collar workers were also upset that their wages were frozen in 2010, while unionized workers in the police and public works department were entitled to negotiated raises.

Local 164 Business Manager Buzzy Dressel told NorthJersey.com that he understood the financial pressures on municipalities but said that it isn't fair or equitable for towns to "go after the employees who don't have a collective bargaining unit." Dressel added, "The union isn't looking to hurt the town. We just want to have a level playing field."

Negotiations haven't started yet, but Dressel said he is confident that conflicts will be resolved once the parties sit down at the table.