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November 2012

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Two Bright Lights of the IBEW

A third generation union activist and an "unstoppable" prevailing wage investigator are the 2012 recipients of the Founders' Scholarship.

Erland Castillo has been an inside wireman for 10 years as a member of New York Local 3. His grandfather was an organizer in Bolivia, which Castillo noted, "is a country not known for favorable union policy." His father is his brother in Local 3, and his mother is a member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181.

Jennie Kordenat is a wage compliance investigator in Portland, Ore., following 12 years as an officer and inside wireman in Longview-Kelso, Wash., Local 970 (now merged into Portland, Ore., Local 48.) Like Castillo, hers is a union family: Kordenat's father, Jan Kerby, was president of Local 970.

International President Gordon Freemen started the Founders' Scholarship in 1966 to put higher education within reach of promising members, improving themselves and their union. Today, the scholarship provides $200 per class-hour each semester, to a maximum of $24,000 over eight years.

From the Line to the Bar

People make a fuss about Jennie Kordenat. They hunt for words to describe how impressed they are with her work ethic and her generosity.

David Myers, the former business manager for Local 970, said Kordenat's work investigating violations of prevailing wage laws "has been useful in leveling the playing field in public works construction."

"Ms. Kordenat has worked tirelessly to improve her union, her craft and her community," said Brian King, business representative for the Teamsters' Vancouver, Wash., Local 38.

"I've never heard her say she was too busy to help," said Kordenat's supervisor at the Oregon & Southwest Washington Fair Contracting Foundation, Corey Haan.

For 12 years, Kordenat was an inside wireman. Twice she was elected recording secretary and once she served on the examining board. Six years ago, she began working at the FCF as a prevailing wage compliance investigator.

"She is unstoppable when she gets a hunch that workers aren't getting their due," said Haan. "She will explore everything about it and expose things that the public agency or contractor didn't want to expose."

Haan says that the most successful investigators — investigators like Kordenat — remember their job is to get the workers paid what they deserve.

"She approached confrontational people and issues with compassion and truth, earning trust and compliance based on her vast knowledge of the law," said Haan.

Sometimes partnership fails and legal action is the only option left, but Kordenat says there are too few lawyers who understand or sympathize with unions. Kordenat sees room at the bar for an electrician, mom and labor activist and plans to go to law school.

"That might take a while though," said Kordenat. She has two teenage daughters (and an exchange student from Iceland) at home, a handful of credits to go before she gets her undergraduate degree and a list of other commitments in her community and to her local.

"I'll get there though," said Kordenat. "Once I set my mind on doing something, I get there. No question. I get there."

'A Model of Today's IBEW Youth'

In addition to working the open decks of Manhattan skyscrapers, Castillo has earned one master's degree in labor studies, worked part-time as a legal assistant and community liaison in the office of a New York labor lawyer and started on a second master's degree.

No surprise then that Humberto Restrepo of the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry said Castillo is "a model of today's IBEW youth, whose voice will shape and strengthen our brotherhood."

Castillo was also a finalist for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in 2008. He was going to head back to Bolivia where he was born and participate in the development of modern labor policies. Unfortunately, the danger his grandfather faced as a union activist in the 1960s continues today and the U.S. State Department decided to cancel the Bolivian Fulbright program.

Castillo returned to the skyscrapers, the libraries and organizing.

"The IBEW has given my family so much," said Castillo. "I want to make it a little better, take it down to the workers."

Castillo is planning to complete a master's degree at Cornell University studying the impact of apprenticeship programs on the lives of workers and their families. He plans to stack nonunion apprenticeship programs against those like the IBEW's.

"Workers face a political environment that is increasingly hostile to unions and the working class," said Castillo. "Empowered by my education, I will continue to defend the rights of all workers, educate them about unions and counteract misleading information about unions."

Benjamin Arana, business representative of Local 3 said, "Brother Castillo will make a difference."

The deadline to apply for the 2013 Founders' Scholarship is May 1. The application can be found at under "Resources." Click on the "Founders' Scholarship" link.


Portland, Ore., Local 48 member
Jennie L. Kordenat


Erland Castillo is a New York Local 3 member.