The Electrical Worker online
August 2013

IBEW's Key Organizing Tool Gets Even Sharper
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Deidre Haley, the lone construction organizer in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Local 529, travels a jurisdiction the size of California. Non-signatory electrical contractors are hard to keep track of as they head north to staff projects at uranium mines — expanding, due to a free trade agreement between Canada and China — or when they build new capacity for oil companies to exploit the province's oil sands.

Keeping track of contractors and their electricians to aid organizing is the precise mission behind OARS, the Organizing Accountability Reporting System, developed by the Membership Development Department under the direction of IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill.

The database created in 2011 allows organizers to track, store and share information on nearly 200,000 signatory and nonunion electrical contractors across the United States and Canada. Aimed at gathering data on unorganized employees, employers and potential organizing targets, the program was re-launched at the 2013 Construction Conference and has been updated for use on mobile phones.

Haley and organizers across the U.S. and Canada are putting OARS to work building the IBEW.

Rather than seeing the program as "big brother checking up on them," most organizers, says application developer Ken Shrom, now see OARS as a powerful tool to help them succeed.

In its first stage, OARS — financed by enhanced support for organizing at the 2006 International Convention in Cleveland — was simply an online reporting system for local union organizers to track their daily activities. After the tactical potential of the program became clear, it was expanded to allow local unions to share and communicate. The software program was made a permanent part of the union's organizing program in 2011 at the 38th International Convention in Vancouver.

"OARS is an awesome tool," says Haley, who is waiting on her province's labor department to report on the results of a recent representation election. Union electricians ("salts") who organized the small electrical contractor in Saskatoon are now spreading out to other shops. OARS gives Haley an online method for tracking and assisting their efforts.

"Mobile OARS is a delight," says Haley, who spends at least two days a week on the road. First District Organizing Coordinator Martin Duckworth credits Haley with sending suggestions on how to improve OARS to Shrom, who says that, while the basics have been refined, "We're adding bells and whistles to help make that tool even more user-friendly."

Nowhere is that needed more than in Arkansas. Fort Smith Local 700's jurisdiction borders Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Organizer Eugene Wilson is challenged by a large number of nonunion contractors hovering over the petroleum and natural gas industry in the region. Wilson thought he had a chance to build a relationship with one of the unorganized Northwest Arkansas contractors. But every time he visited the contractor's shop, he was gone. Then Wilson noticed — in an OARS report — that an organizer from Joplin, Mo., Local 95 had received a call from the hard-to-find contractor.

In days past, says Wilson, the phone call from the contractor could have been lost or buried in an inaccessible logbook. OARS not only saved the vital contact, but Wilson located the contractor and set up a meeting including Local 95 to promote the value both locals can bring to his business.

"I was skeptical about using OARS at the beginning," says Membership Development Representative Dominic Montaldi, Buffalo, N.Y., Local 41. Today, Montaldi says, OARS is a "key tool that I routinely use to not only report, but to organize information."

Previously, monthly reports required compiling paperwork and often rewriting notes. OARS not only saves this step, says Montaldi, it allows information to be shared with other locals throughout the IBEW. "OARS has modernized and heightened the quality of our record-keeping," says Montaldi. Using the program has helped Local 41 sign several contractors who specialize in light commercial markets.

Chad Lux, organizer, Shreveport, La., Local 194, worked on the development of OARS. "I wasn't real computer savvy," he says. "But I knew what kind of help organizers needed."

Today, Lux downloads the locations and even photos of nonunion shops in his jurisdiction. "Let's face it," says Lux, "you may move to another position or lose your job as an organizer. Now the information doesn't disappear or stay in a file cabinet. OARS is both a diary and a database."

State Organizing Coordinator Ronnie Hickingbottom says, "Chad has fully scrubbed his contractor database and is always prioritizing his information to look for new targets to talk to about the benefits of the IBEW."

"OARS helps keep me focused on my targets. It's a tremendous tool," says Jason Heidenreich, organizer, Janesville, Wis., Local 890. Heidenreich, who has been organizing for 10 years, frequently updates his contacts, visits and phone calls to better prepare for expanding the local's market share as work picks up in his jurisdiction in light commercial and public sector projects.

Wisconsin State Organizing Coordinator Bob Koerschner says Heidenreich meticulously records information on target employers in the OARS database, including e-mail addresses, photos from their Web sites and what types of licenses they possess. "Adding all of this information is time-consuming," says Koerschner, "but Jason does a little bit at a time and he recognizes that having all of this available on OARS will be of tremendous value in future campaigns."

"When organizers use OARS effectively," says Special Assistant to the President for Membership Development Kirk Groenendaal, "it's like having an assistant organizer by their side."



Revamped technologies are helping IBEW organizers boost construction membership.