The Electrical Worker online
January 2013

Organizing Yields Wall-to-Wall Membership at Tenn. Research Facility
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A recent campaign to organize technicians and electricians at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a preeminent science and technology research facility in eastern Tennessee, yielded a noteworthy win for employees who are now members of Knoxville Local 760.

For the first time in the plant's 59-year history, all workers performing electrical duties are 100 percent unionized — an accomplishment that Local 760 Business Manager George Bove called "unheard of."

"This has never been done before, and I believe it speaks volumes about how the IBEW puts professionalism up front and alongside solidarity," he said.

The lion's share of wiremen, linemen, instrument technicians, groundmen and utility operators have been affiliated with the local for years. But following local leaders' renewed push for wall-to-wall organizing, IBEW activists launched a campaign last spring to help recruit nearly two dozen new members who had previously opted out of union representation.

"The fact that these new members chose to join us — especially since Tennessee is a right-to-work state — means that we will have greater togetherness on the job site and in future contract talks," Bove said.

Chief Steward Shane Cromwell said that the campaign brought in newer, younger workers and some older employees who had been unorganized in their years on the job.

"For many of these newer folks, nobody had explained to them the benefits of representation — higher wages, insurance, a pension and having a steady work schedule," he said. "With older workers, talking with them about what the IBEW stands for got some people to reopen their eyes and see what it's about. It's about everybody, not just one individual person. We need to have a sense of unity and pride to make our workplace function better for everyone involved."

Managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge houses the world's largest supercomputers that help advance breakthroughs in neutron science, biology and national security. Of the nearly 1,000 organized  employees at the site, many belong to other unions, including the sheet metal workers, boilermakers, machinists, pipefitters and more.

The success of the recent organizing push means that with a peak of almost 400 total members, the IBEW has the greatest union density at the facility. As many senior members have retired in the last few months, Cromwell — who is also assistant business agent for Local 760 — says the victory bodes well for organizing the next generation that walks through the door.

"Winning this helps us out a lot," he said. "Management is looking to hire between 15-20 more people after  Jan. 1, and I feel confident that all those folks are going to go IBEW."

Bove offered special thanks to Assistant Business Agent Mark Long and organizer Mike Marlowe for the successful effort.

"Without a solid team of leaders like these guys, this wouldn't have happened," he said.


Knoxville, Tenn., Local 760 members comprise the largest contingent of union workers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory — a preeminent science and technology research facility in the eastern part of the state.

Photo credit: Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user oakridgelabnews.