´╗┐February 2012

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Ind. Retirees Restore Power to Neighbor in Need

Every month, dozens of retired members of Terre Haute, Ind., Local 725 gather at coffee shops and country buffets throughout western Indiana to catch up on the latest news, talk union and reminisce with longtime brothers and sisters.

But the Local 725 retiree club isn't just about hanging out, says club president John McMullen. "We often will talk politics, or have a representative from the local give us an update on the work situation," he says. "We want to keep active and give something back."

For years, club members — who live in more than 15 counties throughout Indiana and Illinois — have volunteered their electrical expertise around the community, helping to wire the local German Club's Oktoberfest and Strassenfest celebrations every year.

So when the news got around that a 62-year-old Terre Haute woman was facing winter without power, McMullen — who retired four years ago — says club members were ready to help out.

During severe storms last May, her neighbor's tree fell onto the power lines connecting her house, tearing up the rusted meter base.

Despite having a full-time job, the woman — who has to travel more than four miles each day via bicycle because her car broke down — could not afford the needed repairs to get the power back on.

"Duke Energy told her that they couldn't hook the house back up until the meter was fixed," McMullen says.

She went without lights, air conditioning, hot water or heat for more than six months until the first winter frosts made the situation unsustainable.

Her boss called Local 725 for help. The dispatcher on duty, who was getting ready to retire himself, alerted McMullen in late December.

"I called up a couple of club members, talked up a signatory contractor — Evans and Ryan — for supplies, and got to work right away," he says.

Local 725 Business Manager Todd Thacker also pitched in to help, as did retirees Don May and Frank Mershon.

With all four of them working, it took only an hour to do the needed repair, installing a new meter base and replacing the service entrance cable. Duke Power came out that afternoon to hook up the house.

McMullen helped make sure to notify the media about the project, resulting in a glowing story in the Tribune Star, the hometown newspaper.

"We thought her situation was unique and we felt compelled by her living this long without [electrical power]," Thacker told the Tribune Star.

As we report on the front page of this issue, Indiana is currently in the midst of a major legislative assault on workers' rights, as politicians demonize unions in their efforts to implement right-to-work legislation.

McMullen says it is vital that the labor movement push back against the scapegoating to make sure they communicate the positive role union members play in their communities.

"The IBEW does good things all the time, but too often we don't seek recognition for it," he says. "If we don't pat ourselves on the back once in a while, people take the good things unions do for granted."

The woman told the Star that she can't thank the IBEW members enough for what they did. "I've never had anybody do anything for me like this," she says. "I've always paid my way. I'm beyond grateful for this."

Retired members of Terre Haute, Ind., Local 725 put their electrical skills to work last December, helping a local woman restore power to her house.