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July 2013

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Connecticut Organizer Goes 'Above and Beyond'

Scott Munson, a Hartford, Conn., Local 35 organizer, always knew that breaking through obstacles was part of his job description. "For every shop where you can get a campaign going, you get 20 doors slammed in your face," But Munson, an 18-year member faced no ordinary obstacle when, after making major progress getting authorization cards signed by electricians working for Professional Electric, one of New England's largest nonunion contractors, he heard the owner had laid off 13 union supporters.

To make matters more daunting, Munson was laid off, too. Business Manager Bruce Silva, says, "Scott was dedicated to the union 24-7. To let him go because of finances [due to a too slowly-recovering construction market] killed me."

Munson had received his first call from a Professional Electric worker in February 2011 requesting information. He and his fellow organizers from New Haven Local 90 and Bridgeport Local 488 expected stiff resistance to their coordinated organizing campaign. Volunteer organizers openly discussed their fear of being fired from the employer of 200 electricians in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Munson, told workers fearful of losing their jobs: "I will stick this out with you." That included filing National Labor Relations Board charges if workers were wrongfully discharged.

The campaign had picked up early momentum with union mailings to crew members' homes. When the company held captive audience meetings to discourage support for the union, workers questioned the sincerity of the owner, who showed no inclination to improve their nearly nonexistent health and retirement benefits and low pay.

Then a worker forwarded all of the names of in-house organizers to Professional's owner. Munson and the other organizers made good on their promise to file charges at the NLRB after the 13 pro-union electricians were suddenly laid off for what the owner deemed "lack of work." A diligent NLRB investigator supported the union's allegation of wrongful discharge and even found new violations.

This year, the NLRB's office and the company reached a settlement that provided for significant back pay for the 13 electricians who lost their jobs. But the affected workers were now dispersed and none of them would get a penny from the confidential settlement until they were all found and signed papers, stamped by a notary.

Despite the fact that he, too, was now looking for work — with unemployment climbing to 40 percent in Local 35 — Munson went to work tracking down the 13 electricians. That meant taking two trips to Springfield, Mass., spending a lot of time on his cell phone and using the social networking site Facebook as an investigative tool.

In time, Munson located all the affected electricians. And they were paid healthy sums, the kind of money that could go a long way toward buying new vehicles or putting a down payment on a house.

Says, Munson, "I didn't want these guys to have a bad taste about the IBEW." With most of the 13 now working for other nonunion contractors, Munson hopes their recent experience and respect for the IBEW will "open new doors" for the union.

Second District Organizing Coordinator Bob Corraro, a veteran of 19 years in the field, says, "In all of my years in organizing, I have never seen anyone step up to the plate like Scott did. He's a special guy, quiet and modest. He just goes about what he has to do."

Munson says his commitment follows in the footsteps of his younger brother Eric, a Local 35 inside journeyman wireman who joined the IBEW after the family home improvement company disbanded and Scott, Eric, their father and younger brother sought new jobs.

His father became a union carpenter. Another brother got a job as a union teacher. Eric got a job working as an electrician for Semac, a major New England nonunion electrical contractor, and got involved in a Local 35 organizing campaign while employed there, "wearing all the IBEW shirts and the buttons to work," Scott said. When the campaign failed, Eric was hired by a Local 35 signatory contractor.

"My brother is a good electrician and union man," said Scott, who tracked Eric's example and "from day one" of his apprenticeship, attended rallies, picnics and union meetings.

Silva says Scott has "always gone above and beyond in everything that he does." That means helping his employer by applying for a commercial driver's license. But it also means long hours challenging law-breaking nonunion contractors or donating his time to wire a new pavilion for a veteran's group. Munson says he drew strength during the Professional campaign from Silva's support, the resources of other IBEW locals , Corraro and State Organizing Coordinator Craig Duffy. "They were always just a phone call away, day or night," says Munson.

Munson, a father of four and grandfather of two who enjoys camping and drag racing, says IBEW needs an "open door policy" for nonunion electricians. He has invited many of the workers he meets in campaigns up to the union hall where he showed them the training center.

"When the nonunion crews come face-to-face with the union's accomplishments, they are much less likely to see the union as 'this big monster, money-making machine,' but as an organization where people come first," Munson said.

As the economy picks up with new projects kicking off at the University of Connecticut's Medical Center and campus, Silva said he looks forward to putting Munson back on his organizing job. "If you were going to model a union member," says Silva, "Scott's the guy you would clone. He does the right thing even when it hurts."


Scott Munson