|Savvy Partnership, Job Skills Help Okla. Local Cinch Skyscraper Project
On the wind-swept Great Plains, looming high-rise towers are scarce. But members of Oklahoma City Local 1141 are helping construct the tallest building in the Sooner State — the new Devon Energy world headquarters. It's a huge task that is offering nearly 200 members a chance to put their skills and knowledge to the test.
"It's easily the biggest project we've ever been involved in," said Local 1141 member Kevin Ryel, who is managing the project for signatory contractor Dane Electric.
Devon Energy, which employs more than 5,000 people worldwide, is one of the larger players in the oil and natural gas industry. While the company has a significant presence in Houston, they ultimately decided on Oklahoma's capital city for the 850-foot-tall structure in 2009.
Signatory contractor Oklahoma Electrical Supply Co. secured initial contracts to do some of the work. But the local's scope would be limited to wiring the parking garage, cafeteria and installing climate controls — nothing in comparison to the main contract to wire the nearly 2 million square foot structure. Instead, the lion's share of the work was originally given to nonunion Walker Engineering, a Texas-based outfit that most recently wired the new Dallas Cowboys football stadium.
But local leadership knew their union wiremen had a quality edge over the competition, and they were determined to go after more work.
Local 1141 Business Manager Joe P. Smith and Business Agent Jim Griffy, working with Seventh District International Vice President Jon Gardner and International Representatives Clayton White and Tom Davis, set up talks with Walker executives.
"Our main pitch was our people — Dane Electric's proven leadership team and our qualified journeymen who were ready to go to work," said Smith. "And as our members got on the job and performed like they always do, especially when viewed side-by-side with the competition, it just got easier and easier to get the work. Walker has a quality management team, and they have the resources, but they don't have our wiremen."
A key point was the use of newer classifications of construction electricians and construction wiremen, whose addition to the crew mix allowed the contractors to get within a price range the general contractor and the customer would accept. "Twenty years ago, a job this size would have gone union without question," Griffy said. "Even on this project, two out of the final three contractors in the initial bidding were union, but they didn't get the job."
"It would have been impossible for us to do this without the CE/CWs," Local 1141 Membership Development Representative Trentice Hamm said. "If your upfront wage cost appears too high, and the competition has a proven ability to complete large projects and a good relationship with the general, you can't even get in the door. Also, in the process of manning the job, we got journeymen off the book."
By the time the project is finished, Griffy estimates Local 1141 members will have worked more than 500,000 man-hours and earned over $15 million in union wages and benefits. "We've also benefited from the positive exposure in the community that comes with building a project like this, which is literally visible from almost anywhere in the city — all from a job that initially went nonunion," he said.
Every workday morning after his commute to the site, journeyman wireman Steve Myers ascends to the tower's top floor — the 51st — for a full day of installing switch gear, pulling wire and performing other tasks to help ensure the building is complete by its target date near the end of May.
"I've never worked on a high-rise," said Myers, who joined the IBEW in the mid-'90s. "It's pretty amazing. The tasks I'm doing aren't that different from other construction projects, but there's the vertical challenge. Getting your materials where you need them can be tricky, and pulling wire is more complicated than it's been on any other job I've done."
"Doing this job, I couldn't be happier," said apprentice Chris Haycraft. For the last six months, he's helped put up lighting rigs, assisted in getting piping in place and other jobs. "Every morning, I get to catch the sunrise from the 20th floor. In what other job in the city could I do that?"
"This unusual partnership has definitely benefitted our local — and without the best efforts and support of my assistants and staff, it would not have worked," said Smith, who is also on the International Executive Council. "Once we got the ball rolling, Trentice Hamm, working closely with JATC Assistant Director Rusty Walker, consistently met the last-minute, unpredictable manpower demands and kept us going.
"And of course, the outstanding performance of our brothers and sisters on the job is what really made it all possible," said Smith.