March 2012

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Jeremiah 'Jerry' F. Comer

Third District International Representative Jerry Comer retired January 1 after a 42-year career with the IBEW.

Born in Taylor, Pa., Brother Comer was initiated into Syracuse, N.Y., Local 43 in 1969, where he completed his apprenticeship and went to work on such projects as the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. Becoming active in the local union, he served on the executive board and examining board and as vice president before his election as business manager and financial secretary in 1988.

"I liked the challenge and working with the members," said Comer, highlighting a successful organizing campaign he took on as business manager that ended with the five largest nonunion contractors in central New York becoming signatory to Local 43 agreements. Those netted 300 new members, Comer said. He served as a member of the Syracuse Labor Council, the Syracuse building trades council and the Central New York Labor Management Committee.

He became an International Representative appointed to the Third District staff in 1997, servicing construction locals in New York. Comer said he particularly enjoyed working with the AFL-CIO president on legislative issues, including those involving project labor agreements. He also served on the state building trades executive council.

Brother Comer served on the resolutions committee at IBEW conventions in 1991 and 1996. He also nominated International President J.J. Barry, a member of Local 43, at those conventions.

In his retirement, he said he looks forward to traveling and volunteering with some local political campaigns. The IBEW officers, staff and members wish Brother Comer a long and fulfilling retirement.

Jeremiah 'Jerry' F. Comer

Robbie Sparks

Robbie J. Sparks, a longtime business manager, a member of the executive council of the AFL-CIO and president of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, retired effective Feb. 1.

President Edwin D. Hill, who nominated Sparks to serve on the AFL-CIO council in 2005, says, "Sister Robbie's commitment to organized labor and the struggle for justice and equality is unrivaled. Her integrity and courage have been instrumental in building a more diverse and inclusive IBEW to meet the tough challenges ahead."

Born in Atlanta, Sparks began working at an early age in a poultry processing plant for $.52 an hour. In 1966, she went to work as a production worker on the assembly line at ITE Inc., which was bought by Siemens Energy and Automation.

After questioning both union and management leaders at ITE about the disparity in pay and working conditions between white workers and minorities and women, Robbie joined Atlanta Local 2127.

While serving on the local union's negotiating committee, Sparks helped establish a bidding system to promote equal pay and promotional opportunities for all workers and led a successful strike to improve wages and benefits.

A shop steward and chief steward, Sparks was elected business manager, holding the position for 28 years.

In 1990, Robbie Sparks was elected president of the EWMC. She concentrated on spreading awareness of the group throughout the IBEW and deepening the caucus's work between meetings which were held every four or five years to coincide with IBEW International conventions.

Robbie Sparks

John Flynn

We are sorry to report that retired Second District Vice President John Flynn passed away on Jan. 26 at the age of 86.

"Brother Flynn believed in organizing and building stronger labor-community relationships before they became trends. He was a low-key, professional and progressive innovator," says Second District Vice President Frank Carroll.

Flynn was initiated into Brockton, Mass., Local 223 in 1952 after his graduation from Boston University, where he received a B.S. degree in history and government. A journeyman inside wireman, Flynn took an immediate interest in his local union and served as business manager from 1958 to 1963.

He served as president of the Brockton Building Trades Council and as a labor representative to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Appointed International Representative in 1963, Flynn, a World War II veteran, was assigned to organizing and servicing in branches including construction, maintenance, utility, manufacturing and shipyards. In 1968, Flynn was appointed Second District Vice President, serving until his retirement in 1990.

During his 22 years as vice president, Flynn amalgamated dozens of construction locals to free up resources for organizing. The mergers were controversial, says Carroll, but Flynn persevered because "he believed the streamlined structure was necessary to make the IBEW and the labor movement more viable."

After his retirement, Flynn served for four years as national director of the Quality Connection, a joint effort of the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association.

An accomplished skier and tennis player, Flynn enjoyed traveling, golf and bowling during his retirement. He leaves behind his wife Evelyn, sons John Jr. and Kevin and his daughter Suzanne. He is predeceased by his first wife, Virginia, who was killed in an auto accident in 1984.

The officers, members and staff express heartfelt sympathies to Brother Flynn's family on behalf of our union membership.

John Flynn

Keith Huyser

We regret to report that retired Sixth District International Representative Keith Huyser died on Feb. 5 at the age of 81.

Initiated into Lansing, Mich., Local 665 in 1949, Huyser was elected business manager and was active in the area's labor movement, serving as vice president of both the Greater Lansing Labor Council and the Lansing Building Trades Council.

Brother Huyser, a third-generation IBEW member, was appointed International Representative in 1969, working out of Indiana and, later, Chicago. His brother, Don, was also a member of Local 665.

George Wilson, a retired business manager of the local, says: "Keith was good at straightening out problems; he knew how to get along with people. When he was working with his tools, contractors wanted him supervising their jobs."

William Huyser, Keith's son, a member of Local 665, says, "My dad always had a smile on his face and embraced members with a hug. The IBEW meant the world to him."

Huyser leaves behind his wife, Marilyn, three stepchildren, six children, 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His son, James, and a stepson, Brian Bass, are members of Local 665.

The officers, members and staff express our deep condolences to Brother Huyser's family.

Keith Huyser