The Electrical Worker online
July 2013

EWMC Honors Legacy,
Empowers Young Workers
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Eric Brown often thinks about the legacy of founders and visionaries as he scans the faces and absorbs the swelling energy and spirit that have come to personify the national conferences of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus.

"The founders of the caucus," says Brown, the 55-year-old treasurer of Los Angeles Local 11, "knew that to genuinely overcome discrimination within the IBEW, they needed to be progressive, active and establish their own model of inclusiveness."

Brown now draws inspiration not just from the courage of the overwhelmingly African-American activists who formed the caucus in 1974, but from an expanding contingent of young workers and the EWMC's own youth caucus that reflects the diversity of today's work force.

"Sometimes when members see the word 'minority' in our name, they don't realize that we have members of all races and nationalities and that we are working for all members of the IBEW," says Michelle Penny, recording secretary of the youth caucus, who topped out in 2012 as the first African-American woman to receive a journeyman wireman ticket in San Diego Local 569.

With thousands of local union leaders nearing retirement age, the EWMC is playing a critical role in educating young members in the history of the IBEW and passing on tools to help them lead new efforts in organizing and serving the members. But the caucus is also helping give the young members a voice that veterans like Brown say it's time for more senior members to listen to.

The movement of young workers for a stronger voice in the IBEW and the labor movement doesn't face the momentous obstacles of their predecessors like Gus Miller, an EWMC founder who was barred because of his race from getting a journeyman's card, but whose perseverance later won his ticket and 17 years on the executive board of Portland, Ore., Local 48.

But the development of EWMC's youth caucus in 2010 is following the footprints of its parent organization on the road to strengthening the IBEW's reach and power by developing a more inclusive internal union culture.


The EWMC's ethos, rooted strongly in African-American history, has set an important model for mentoring young IBEW members of all nationalities and backgrounds, giving them practical tools to employ in their home locals.

Founders of the EWMC looked to build an even stronger ladder for others to climb by passing on experience gained in struggle: "each one teach one."

"In the EWMC, young members are surrounded by veteran activists who want them to succeed," said Carolyn Williams, Director of IBEW's Civic and Community Engagement Department.

Epifenio "Eppie" Martinez, assistant business manager of Denver Local 111, a journeyman lineman and member of the youth caucus, was recently elected to the EWMC's executive committee. The product of a union plumber father and a public employee union mother, Martinez understood the need for strong unions in the workplace. But he credits the mentors in his local union's EWMC chapter — the only one in the IBEW's Eighth District — and the group's national conferences for helping him strap on the political and leadership tools needed to succeed in the IBEW.

"I learned how to conduct meetings, improved my public speaking and got practice that I used in my local union as a shop steward, member of the apprentice and safety committees and executive board member," says Martinez, now 38.

Mike Byrd, Local 111's business manager, factored Martinez's success in building the local's EWMC chapter into his decision to appoint him as an assistant.

"Eppie was so involved with young workers," says Byrd, who credits Martinez with helping to transform the local's EWMC chapter from "a few guys meeting infrequently to 25 members meeting every month." Martinez, who Byrd says, "sponges up" knowledge of the union, also showed that he could bridge the interests of younger and older workers.

Adrian Sauceda, 36, vice chairman of the EWMC's youth caucus, has served as a Houston Local 716 organizer for 10 years. He says EWMC doesn't just encourage participation by young workers, but "stays on the offense, looking for 'standouts' — members they would like to see 'on their crew' — just like a foreman would on a construction site."

Constructive Dialogue

The EWMC's history of bringing resolutions to the floor of the IBEW Convention, opening up dialogue and dealing constructively with controversy has been a template for leaders of the young workers movement to follow.

Wendell Yee, a New York Local 3 journeyman inside wireman, is president of the EWMC Youth Caucus. Yee credits his involvement in EWMC to the progressive leadership of Local 3's Business Manager Christopher Erickson who has continued a long, progressive tradition. In 1974, former Business Manager Harry Van Arsdale Jr. used his position as IBEW Treasurer to assist the EWMC founders to have their voices heard at the union's convention.

Yee participated in the RENEW (Reach out and Energize Next-gen Electrical Workers) meeting at the 38th IBEW Convention in Vancouver. He and Lorenso Arcineaga, a member of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245, who serves on the AFL-CIO's young workers advisory council, joined with activists in three local unions to introduce a resolution there on the need for the IBEW to tap the initiative of young workers.

Combined with one submitted by IBEW's officers, the resolution states, "The IBEW actively encourages and supports programs among local unions and affiliates aimed at bringing young workers into the labor movement and dedicated to the leadership development of younger members."

Respect for IBEW's internal process in the young workers' resolution is reminiscent of the EWMC's 1991 resolution, submitted by 24 unions to the IBEW International Convention in St. Louis that led directly to the formation of a Human Services Department at the International office. The department, which helped launch the IBEW's program on diversity and inclusion, has been renamed the Civic and Community Engagement Department.

After the Vancouver convention, Yee attended a second gathering of young IBEW workers that coincided with the 2011 AFL-CIO Next Up Conference.

Since then, Yee and other EWMC and IBEW activists continued their conversation through monthly conference calls. The calls ease the exchanging of experience with the goal of establishing best practices for moving more young IBEW members of all races and nationalities into union and community activism and educating more young workers outside of IBEW about the benefits of organized labor.

Community Engagement

The longstanding EWMC tradition of engaging in civic and community activities — day-to-day in local chapters and during volunteer workdays during national conferences — melds well with young workers who want to bring trade unionism to peers who have no experience with or connections to organized labor or the skilled trades.

Years ago, EWMC's leaders identified the same need to bring unionism to minority populations who — due to historic discrimination — lacked familiarity with the building trades. So they established ties with community leaders to foster pre-apprenticeship programs. And they sponsored volunteer community workdays as part of national conferences and local chapter activities.

Using new tools and social media, young activists like Alton Wilkerson, Michelle Penny and Josh Margolis (see accompanying profiles) are deepening the EWMC's tradition of reaching out beyond the walls of their local unions.

The longest-serving African-American leader in the history of 11,800-member Local 11, Eric Brown has cautioned younger members like Wilkerson, president of the recently-formed Local 11 Next Generation Youth Caucus, to respect the experience of their more senior co-workers. Brown's pragmatic approach is honed by his experience in the EWMC.

"In my day," says Brown, "we would set up committees and hold two-hour meetings before we did anything." Young workers are capable of much more "instantaneous response and action," says Brown. "I'm proud of the role the EWMC is playing in the process," says Brown, who adds that experience in his local is demonstrating that both veteran leaders and younger activists gain when the less-seasoned members are given the opportunity to "shadow" veterans in the course of their daily work on behalf of the union.



EWMC Helps Build L.A.'s Next Generation Youth Caucus;
San Diego Member: 'Stay Connected, Give Something Back to IBEW';
EWMC Activists Build Solid Bonds on Long Island Read More Young Workers



Many members of the Local 11 Youth Caucus attend Organizing Committee meetings.


Epifenio Martinez