The Electrical Worker online
March 2013

From the Officers
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Path to Recovery

Help Wanted. It's been a long time since we've seen those two words connected with the construction industry. But after the biggest downturn since the Great Depression — and a recession that slashed 2 million construction jobs — contractors, economists and business managers are reporting the first shoots of economic recovery.

As a union, we don't set interest rates, tell companies when to invest or play a role in raising consumer confidence levels — all factors in construction's tentative recovery.

What we do control is our commitment to training and excellence and our market share — the percentage of electrical construction done by IBEW members and our signatory contractors. When our market share heads south, it means the nonunion guys — not us — set the standards for wages and benefits. And it means we have less power to capture the work that is out there.

Nearly 10 years ago, we began to grapple with some uncomfortable truths. In the middle of one of the biggest construction booms in decades, we were getting shut out. Even though jobs were plentiful, our control of the market was slipping year by year and unless we changed how we did things, we would soon be irrelevant.

A lot of people didn't want to hear it, and I don't blame them. It's human nature to stay in our comfort zone, to stick with what we're used to.

But indecision and procrastination were luxuries we didn't have. We had a choice: become a dwindling core of craftsmen comfortable with holding onto our little corner of the market, or live up to the words of our constitution and aggressively organize all workers in the electrical industry.

Our market recovery program was well underway when the crash hit. Immediately we started to get pushback. Why are we trying to organize new members when we can't put our existing ones to work? Why are we bringing in new job classifications when 20-year journeymen are sitting on the bench?

The market numbers we report in this issue explain why. After dipping a couple of points in 2009 and 2010, our employment share is back to its pre-recession level of 30 percent.

Unions usually get wiped out by recessions. We suffered a net loss of members, along with the entire industry. But we're not about to be wiped out, which means more jobs and more work this time for our members as the economy picks up.

Getting back to where we once were is only a first step, not a reason to spike the football. We have to continue to focus, to paraphrase President Clinton, like a laser on jobs and winning more and more work.

The current administration needs to heed the same advice. The economy is improving, but we are still a long way from full recovery. President Obama — and the IBEW — can't afford to get distracted from what still must be our No.1 task: creating good jobs.


Also: Chilia: NLRB Protections Targeted Read Chilia's Column

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President