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July 2013

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IBEW Comic Book Recounts Labor's Story to
New Members

In a genre best known for caped crusaders and mutants saving the universe, one IBEW local is using comic books to tell the story of another kind of hero: the union men and women who made the American middle class.

Earlier this year Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 published "First Day," a 20-page comic book detailing the history of Local 1245 and the labor movement, which is distributed to all new members. And so far, it is a big hit.

"It is the first thing people turn to when they get their orientation packets," says Eric Wolfe, communications director at Local 1245.

Wolfe worked with artist Tom Christopher to put the comic book together, based on a history Wolfe did of the local.

"First Day" tells the story of a new employee at California utility PG&E. The worker tells his son about the IBEW and all the good benefits that being a member bring his family, while recounting the struggles that helped create the labor movement and Local 1245.

It was a big project, says Wolfe, but rewarding for all involved.

"It was a rich experience trying to take labor history and turn it into engaging dialogue and drama without distorting the facts," he says.

One of the main motivations for doing the comic was the desire to find new ways to reach younger members, says Business Manager Tom Dalzell.

Dalzell knew that Christopher — a veteran of the comic book industry — was pro-union, so he asked him about helping to make one for the IBEW.

The utility industry is undergoing a major generational shift, as the baby boomers exit the work force with increasing speed. PG&E has recently undergone a hiring boom, posing a challenge to Local 1245 on how to best reach out to these younger members — many with little to no experience with unions.

"It is important to find new ways to communicate an old message: there is strength in unity and unions are the best way to gain some power over your work life," says Dalzell.

Wolfe says that he hopes to use the comic book format in other local literature, including training material for shop stewards.

"A lot of the old guard is headed out the door," Wolfe says. "If we don't make a concerted effort to inform and engage this new generation of employees, we will lose out the ability to represent them effectively."


IBEW/Utility Training Program Recognized

Faced with a "gray tidal wave" of looming retirements in the nuclear industry, the IBEW and Florida Light and Power launched an innovative partnership with Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Fla., seven years ago.

Now that collaboration known as the Power Plant Institute has been recognized as one of the best college/corporate partnerships by the American Association of Community Colleges.

The average age of workers at FPL's two nuclear power plants, St. Lucie and Turkey Point, was close to 60 years old when the institute was launched in 2006, and it had been more than a decade since anyone had topped out of System Council U-4's apprenticeship program.

"Our goal was to fill an immediate need for highly trained and skilled craft workers for Florida Power and Light and we've done that," said Gary Aleknavich, business manager of System Council U-4 which represents FPL workers. "We're excited about the program and the recognition it is receiving."

By partnering with Indian River State, a new generation of apprentices learned to maintain mechanical, electrical and instrument and control systems. Some students joined the apprenticeship program from within FPL, but many others came in as students at Indian River, simply by applying for admission. After two years of classes and summer internships, students were awarded an associate in science degree in electrical power technology.

Graduates employed or hired by FPL began a final apprenticeship year at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant before becoming full journeymen.

About 100 graduates have been hired or promoted at St. Lucie since the program's inception. A sister program housed at Miami College has fed a similar number of new employees to Turkey Point. In this right-to-work state, nearly all have become members of the IBEW, Aleknavich said.

"Through our agreement, we launched a whole generation of highly-skilled craft workers in time to get a transfer of knowledge before our veterans retire," Aleknavich said. "Without it, there would have been a gap in the knowledge of the nuclear worker that would have been a threat to the IBEW and FPL."