The Electrical Worker online
April 2013

Facing Opposition, Ill. Sears Techs Ratify
First Contract
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Years of management favoritism, lack of respect on the job and the threat of declining wages had been wearing on hundreds of Sears service technicians in the upper Midwest. But times are changing. Following a dynamic organizing campaign that tapped the courage of employees and the know-how of seven IBEW locals in and near Illinois, 345 skilled workers are now covered by their first union-negotiated contract.

The new IBEW members — who voted to join Chicago Local 134 in September 2011 — ratified the two-year agreement Jan. 20 by a large majority.

"For me personally, it means I can now work with a little more security," said Local 134 member Pierre Powell, who has 33 years on the job. "There's more fairness now."

At the bargaining table, IBEW leaders said that Sears initially put forth a proposal that could have slashed members' pay by as much as 40 percent.

"They played hardball," said Local 134's Rich Murphy, who serves as special assistant to the local's business manager. "It was contentious. But we were able to keep wages at a fair level, introduce the opportunity for bonuses, get a grievance procedure in place and establish seniority. It's a starting point for these employees."

Powell, who was part of the negotiating committee, agreed. "We had a good strategy and showed perseverance," he said. "We spent more than a year working on the contract. As time went on, there was less hostility, and now we have something we can build on."

Both parties agreed to go back to bargain over wages in a year, with rates remaining steady for now. All other tenets of the contract run until Jan. 20, 2015.

Maintaining momentum throughout the negotiation process proved challenging, as the employees are spread out across the top quarter of the state.

But a creative fusion of tried-and-true methods and cutting-edge technology bridged the gap and helped build community and foster dialogue between employees, who perform maintenance and service on everything from dishwashers and home appliances to heavy-duty tractor equipment and more.

Members communicated through online forums, chat rooms and over conference calls — meeting when they could at IBEW locals across the region for strategy sessions.

"The most important factor in our success was the way we used modern technology," Murphy said. "Despite the challenges, it was one of the finest campaigns and bargaining sessions I've ever had the fortune to be a part of."

Murphy said special help from Sixth District International Organizing Coordinator Jeff Radjewski, Region 3 Lead Organizers Mike Green and Steve Fosness and Indiana State Organizing Coordinator Jim Dotson was instrumental.

"From the very beginning, they were involved in this and helped make it a success," Murphy said.

Cooperation and communication among the IBEW locals was crucial, too. Organizer Abe Rodriguez said that numerous locals in Illinois offered space for workers to meet on weekends. "It was a team effort all around," he said.

Read more about the Sears workers' organizing win in the December 2011 issue of The Electrical Worker, and watch video testimonies from members at


Sears technician Pierre Powell says his new contract ensures "more fairness now" on the job as a member of Chicago Local 134.