July 2011

Recovery Agreement Boosts Local Economy, Membership in N.C.
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With more than three decades in the trade, Steve Price had finely honed his skills as a nonunion electrical contractor. For most of those years, he balanced using his tools with administering payroll for more than a dozen employees in rural North Carolina.

But hard times in the construction industry—along with the outsourcing of the region's textile sector, which had once provided steady work—gave way to a harsh economic reality for Price and his family last year. His company folded, and even with reliable contacts in the area, he was barely scraping up enough work to get by on his own.

Looking to turn things around, Price attended an "industry night"—a job fair bringing nonunion electricians together with contractors—late last year sponsored by signatory contractor Rosendin Electric and Asheville Local 238. The company was hiring qualified area residents as electricians to start work on a massive Facebook data center in Rutherford County in the western part of the state.

The new hires would join the union as intermediate-level construction electricians or construction wiremen (CE/CWs) as part of the IBEW's recovery agreement. This initiative allows a composite crew—of journeymen, apprentices and CE/CWs—to help contractors bid successfully on previously out-of-reach or overlooked jobs. The IBEW has garnered success with such agreements nationwide, including in right-to-work states, by bringing previously unrepresented workers into the union fold while helping signatory contractors bid more competitively.

Price was curious. "I wouldn't say I'd ever been 'anti-union,' I'd just never had any experience with someone from that world," he said. North Carolina has right-to-work laws on the books and has the lowest union density in the nation, at just above 3 percent. "You never hear anything about how good unions are where I'm from."

With his credentials, Price became the first new employee Rosendin hired for the job—and he brought friends. More than a dozen formerly nonunion electricians, many of whom had worked for Price, joined as CE/CWs on the project, bringing a range of knowledge and experience into a growing local.

"We've got 100 percent employment with our journeymen and apprentices on this project, and with the CE/CW program, we're making our local even stronger," said Local 238 Business Manager Dusty Rhodes. As a result of the contractor securing the bid—which would have gone nonunion if not for the local's flexible crew mix—more than 25 new members joined the local under the new classifications. "We've been able to put area people to work, raise wages for tradesmen in the region and add to our ranks. It's a win-win solution for the union and for the local economy."

Since December, about 140 journeymen, apprentices and CE/CWs have been wiring the new data center. Rhodes said construction of the sprawling, $60-million-per-building project should provide work for local members for the next four years.

The work force also benefits from a solid partnership with Rosendin, said Charlie Phillips, the site's job steward. "We work as a team, and there's a great level of cooperation."

Rhodes said the new members and seasoned IBEW veterans work cooperatively—and because many new members came in with previous skills in the nonunion sector, many have tested up to higher classifications or have begun their apprenticeships. Along the way, they're picking up on union values, he said.

"A lot of these guys have never worked where they get health care or have a collective bargaining agreement," Rhodes said. "So they see those immediate benefits. But they're also coming to our meetings and getting educated about the Brotherhood."

Price, the former nonunion contractor, has tested up to the journeyman level and is now overseeing quality control on the project.

"Now when people ask me what I do," Price said, "I'm proud to say I'm a union electrician."

Leaders of Asheville Local 238 used the union's recovery agreement to net a job building a data center for popular social networking site Facebook. The project employs a composite crew of 140 members.