Professional and Industrial Organizing
"You heard a common theme from many of our speakers – if we stand still, we die. If we don't change what's not working, then we are condemning ourselves to a slow death."
Change. It's inevitable. But progress comes only through perseverance, doubling down and refining your efforts.
This year, organizing in the professional and industrial sector — comprised of utilities, telecommunications, manufacturing, government, broadcasting and railroad — has helped thousands of workers raise their voices for fair pay, decent benefits and the added dignity that comes on the job from having a union at their back.
"Probably the best part about it is that, all of a sudden, we're a 'we' instead of an 'I,'" said Julie Wichmann Huerta, who is a commission chief administrative officer for the Port of Los Angeles. "We have influence, we have clout — and we have a professional-level organization that is negotiating for us and making sure that our needs are met."
This year, 92 successful campaigns have won representation rights for more than 7,000 new members. The campaign win rate is a whopping 72 percent — significantly higher than the average organizing ratio for any union in any industry across the U.S. and Canada.
"It's an exciting time to be building the IBEW," said lead organizer Steve Smith, who has helped win voices on the job for workers at Comcast in the Northeast. Smith is one of 49 full-time organizers in the professional and industrial branch, a corps that has more than doubled in size since before the 2011 convention, largely due to added funding from the membership.
Other improvements include the addition of IBEW leaders assigned full-time to business development at various locals throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as new membership-boosting trainings that have been launched by the Education Department at the International Office in Washington, D.C.
But behind the numbers are stories — lives that have been changed, families that have been strengthened, and hard-won dignity that reverberates long after the votes are counted.
"It is no secret that organizing campaigns are most successful when we utilize all of our resources — a and because of the work of our local unions, organizers in the field and leadership support, we are helping change the lives of the workers we touch," said Membership Development Director Gina Cooper, who heads up professional and industrial efforts across the U.S. and Canada. "From the United States Infrastructure Corporation worker who framed every piece of organizing campaign correspondence that was mailed to him, to the City of Ocala workers who had all gotten together on game day and danced every time an IBEW commercial played, thousands of workers who wanted a voice are thrilled and excited that they are now a part of our organization."
"These remarkable gains certainly say something positive about our continued organizing efforts in the professional and industrial sector," said International President Edwin D. Hill. "But beyond that, these victories show that countless workers nationwide are saying 'enough' to unfair pay, lack of benefits and disrespect on the job. I applaud these brave men and women for standing up for their rights, and I know that we can continue the fight to make jobs better for more workers in the upcoming year."
Delegates to the 2011 International Convention voted to provide more resources to organize new members by passing two per capita tax increases. The first went into effect this year, and another will be implemented in 2014. After that, if membership growth projections fall short, a third per capita increase will kick in in 2016.
The following are just some of the other high-profile stories from an action-packed year of successful organizing.
'If They Can Get a Contract, I Know We Can Too'
In Lebanon, Mo., frustration had been setting in for years amongst the nearly 20 employees who handle water treatment, management and construction tasks for city of 14,000 in the central part of the state.
"They were upset about how they'd been treated at work," said organizer Phil Meyer, who services locals throughout the 11th District. "There were unfair discipline actions, and they were upset about not having the proper safety equipment."
Even obtaining full-time status had proved elusive for some. "One employee had been a part-time employee for 16 years," said Tony Parrish, which meant no benefits for the worker and his family. Parrish is business manager of Springfield Local 753, about an hour's drive southwest of Lebanon.
A group of Local 753 linemen who frequently rubbed shoulders on the job with the water workers recently won a contract with representation from the local. The water workers said, "," said Meyer.
A quick campaign yielded victory for the workers, who overwhelmingly voted to be represented by the local in July.
As first contract talks ramp up, Parrish says the new members are mobilized and engaged. "This is going to be a huge benefit to them," he said. "They're excited and they're ready to move forward."
Broad Territory, Bolstered Opportunities
With an outside jurisdiction that spans hundreds of miles, Philadelphia Local 126's territory covers the southern half of Pennsylvania, Maryland's Eastern Shore and all of Delaware. That distance makes the task of building linemen's careers and boosting the membership all the more challenging.
To better make the rounds, local leaders have in the past few years established satellite offices in four strategic locations in the three states, while increasing the number of full time organizers to 16.
"A lot of people who have lived in Maryland or Delaware might not have really know who local 126 was unless they actually talked to a lineman down there," said organizer Rick Fridell, who works out of the Bridgeville, Del., office. "People didn't know that there were those types of opportunities down there — you don't see union halls down there."
The revamped, ambitious presence has yielded immediate results.since January 2012, and seven new contractors have signed letters of assent.
"We're always trying to pick up new work," said Local 126 Business Manager Rich Muttik. "That's our No. 1 goal, to get everybody working and have everybody IBEW."
And Muttik's approach –as well as attitude — is infectious, especially to the businesses he partners with.
"One thing that Rich has said to me before is, 'Our contractors don't fail,'" said Cindy Gallo, owner of telecommunications contractor Fiber Business Solutions in Norristown, Pa. "That's what struck a chord with me."
Tech-Savvy Campaign Nets Win for Ca. Workers
Organizing 2.0 presents new opportunities for workers to connect over broad distances. Text, e-mail, blog posts, social media and Web sites are all playing a role in bringing workers together to raise their collective voices.
But what happens when a worker is trying to reach out to you online, and the company ups the ante to something akin to low-level cyber warfare?
This was the challenge facing workers at NCR in Ontario who had contacted the IBEW for representation. The employees service and maintain ATM machines, bank equipment and other electronic point-of-sale technology for the company.
"These workers are service orientated ," said First District organizer Brett Youngberg. "They're technicians and they're mobile. It's not like when you're dealing with a factory where you can meet them at the gate and solicit them through leaflets."
Mobile and Web technology proved fruitful in the early stages of the campaign late last year — that is, until management caught wind of the effort.
To keep workers and IBEW activists from communicating, NCR set up a firewall system to block any incoming e-mails to employees featuring particular keywords like "union," collective," IBEW" and more.
So organizers' and workers' next moves were to communicate through small-batch e-mails via Google's Gmail system, which allowed Youngberg and his colleagues to send electronic attachments — including authorization cards — to workers without raising red flags or overloading the company's system. This proved the perfect camouflage, as the organizers' information now flowed to workers undetected by management.
It worked. Per Ontario law, employees were able to print their e-mailed cards, sign them in front of a witness and deliver them to the province's labor board..
"Our goal is to ensure that these people are well represented, that the employer lives by the rules — and we'll take them to task if they don't," said Local 636 Business Manager Barry Brown.
A new Web site developed at the IBEW International Office is helping foster more communication and reach more workers in ongoing efforts at the company. Visit it at.
IBEW Gets High Marks from Fla. School Personnel
Further south, tried-and-true shoe leather efforts helped win a voice on the job for hundreds of employees of the Duval County Public Schools in eastern Florida.
Workers who perform carpentry, maintenance, and other tasks for the 125,000-student district had been reeling from a recent round of layoffs that affected 30 employees.
"That's when we realized that we didn't have anybody that could really speak up for us," said Ed Kicklighter, a carpenter for the district who was instrumental in the campaign.
After coordinating with leaders at Jacksonville Local 177, Kicklighter, some co-workers and local organizers gassed up their cars and hit the road to make home visits across the vast county, traveling as many as 50 miles at a time to meet one employee face-to-face.
"When we came knocking on the door, they knew that we weren't just sitting back waiting for them to come to us – we were willing to sit in their home, in their environment, where they're comfortable," said Local 177 organizer Bill Stuart.
Kicklighter said his fellow co-workers were largely receptive to the home visits.
"They knew we needed something," he said. "Of course, we had a few who didn't want to talk and wanted no part of it. Since then, some of those guys shook my hand and said, 'You're right. We needed this.'".
"It's a great win for us," said Joe Roberts, who directs business development for the local. "It gives us a lot more visibility in the community, and all of the people who have worked for the school board are active in the community with little leagues and things like that, so it spreads the idea of the IBEW beyond where we are now."
Drivers for High-End N.Y. Chef Supply Company
In good times or bad, New York City's elite will call on their best chefs. The city's restaurant and tavern sectors expanded during the latest recession, often opening up for business in rehabilitated venues where industrial manufacturing once thrived.
New York City Local 1430 has lost much of its manufacturing membership. But the local never lost its spirit for organizing. So, a while back, Business Manager Jordan El Hag and his staff decided to target the Big Apple's food distribution industry, offering workers a voice on the job and the benefits of collective bargaining once so widely enjoyed by its members in the factories of electrical equipment manufacturers.
In September, the plan to target food distribution was validated when drivers for Chefs' Warehouse, a supplier of specialty food to upscale eateries, hotels and gourmet stores, voted 62 to 36 for representation by Local 1430.
"The 2-to-1 vote shows the effectiveness of letting prospective members know what to expect during a representation campaign and getting their buy-in to run it themselves," says Local 1430 Business Agent Sammy Gonzales Jr., who first reached out to drivers and warehouse workers in July 2012.
While drivers didn't have major complaints about pay or medical benefits, they wanted the company — which has warehouses in major cities including Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Miami — to institute fairer, consistent procedures. They were concerned, for instance, that the company was making arbitrary decisions in moving employees up to "team leader," a position that provides a $100 per week bump in pay.
"They weren't treating the drivers right," says Gosnell Butler, who has worked at the company for two and a half years. As workers compared their paychecks and saw inconsistencies, they "woke up to see what was happening."
"We discussed how forming a union is about being a partner in a company's success," says Gonzalez, who, along with Lead Organizer Joe Mastrogiovanni Jr., outlined what kind of opposition might be mounted by the company.
Gonzalez and others met weekly with drivers, whom he described as seasoned and experienced professionals, to answer questions. They supplemented information about the union and the campaign through text message blasts and e-mails.
"We told drivers that Local 1430 was the avenue [for pulling members together], but they were the union and they needed to take ownership of the campaign, not let it get sidetracked by divisive tactics from the employer," says Gonzalez.
The "inoculation" effort, designed to help workers anticipate well-worn anti-union tactics, was particularly important, he says. Some of the drivers were on the company's payroll in 2008 and 2010 when two different unions vied for representing the work force, with each one failing to achieve a majority.
"Organizers, aware that drivers worked irregular shifts, showed up at the warehouse nearly every day," says Gonzalez, to underscore the perception that Local 1430 would not abandon workers as company opposition mounted.
Divisive tactics were deployed as soon as the campaign went public. The company — which had revenues of $480 million in 2012, a 21 percent increase since 2009 — called in four "union avoidance" consultants from Delaware and Virginia. They held non-mandatory meetings, advising drivers that the union would sap their savings in dues and put their livelihoods in jeopardy by recklessly striking the company.
While drivers weren't compelled to attend, the meetings were held within earshot of the dispatcher's office. As drivers walked by, they heard the same anti-union barrage from the consultants that had been discussed in meetings with organizers.
Complementing the misinformation campaign and attempting to undermine the growing relationships between drivers and Local 1430, Chefs' Warehouse hosted picnics for the work force and gave away free food to employees. The drivers were undeterred.
El Hag and his staff knew at the start of the campaign that some of the company's warehouse workers were interested in joining the drivers as local union members. But, as he and organizers assessed the terrain, they deliberately proceeded to first focus on the drivers, a more cohesive group. The plan worked. El Hag says IBEW's Third District Vice President Don Siegel, Mastrogiovanni and International Representative Brian Brennan provided crucial support.
"Teamwork between locals and the International is always critical," says Mastrogiovanni. "Jordan El Hag and Local 1430 made no false promises to drivers. They lived up to their word and they gave Chefs' Warehouse workers the opportunity to better their lives."
Organizers hope to deepen their numbers inside and beyond Chefs' Warehouse's New York City locale, convincing more potential members to take ownership of their futures by joining IBEW and partnering with a thriving business.
According to The Bull and Bear Financial Report, Chefs' Warehouse supplies 20,000 products to chefs, compared to about 1,600 for the average specialty distributor. The report projects a minimum growth rate of 15 percent in annual sales for the next five years.
'All In' Strategy Wins Florida Municipal Campaign
Two years ago, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker launched his war on public employees' collective bargaining rights, some self-appointed experts on the labor movement predicted a quick demise for public sector bargaining units everywhere.
That dismal forecast for organized labor never made it down to Ocala, Fla., a politically conservative city in the center of that right-to-work state.
On Aug. 15, city employees — who perform a wide range of jobs ranging from call center operators to crime scene technicians and building inspectors — voted 203 to 97 for representation by Gainesville Local 1205.
The margin of victory reversed the percentages of a prior organizing loss by another international union a few years back.
But, more importantly, the strategy and tactics developed during the Ocala campaign demonstrated the effectiveness of the all-in, multi-dimensional approach that was the theme of September's IBEW Membership Development Conference.
The campaign tapped the creativity of the city's work force and reached out to IBEW retirees and the wider community, mixing modern online communication with traditional, time-tested organizing techniques.
Members of the Ocala volunteer organizing committee joined Local 1205 Organizer Tommy Ward and Lead Organizer Doug Williams making house calls to their co-workers.
They packed city council meetings wearing IBEW T-shirts and hats to oppose severe cuts in their pensions — the main catalyst for the organizing campaign. And, with a stroke of good luck, a letter sent by the local union to prospective members outlining the benefits in organizing arrived the same day a national TV ad promoting the IBEW was aired during the 2012 NFL playoffs. "The IBEW was legitimatized," says Williams.
"We left no stone unturned in this campaign," says Williams. He requested a list of all IBEW members and retirees in the 15 towns in the area surrounding Ocala and sent letters asking them to attend city council meetings in support of the city's workers.
The union's online organizing tools proved their worth. An international representative saw Ocala targeted on IBEW's Organizing Accountability Reporting System (OARS) and called Williams with contact information for his wife's uncle, who worked for the city.
Above all, Ocala workers like Steve Kindred made a personal commitment to reaching out to their peers.
"When I started working here, I never thought I would be making house calls, testifying at city council meetings or going to Tallahassee to count ballots in a union election," says Kindred, an Ocala engineering technician. He carried his positive experience as a former member of two municipal collective bargaining units to his co-workers during the campaign.
In 1996, Kindred retired after 20 years in military service as a nuclear reactor operator and supply officer and went to work as a permit technician and engineering technician in two cities in the state of Washington.
The son of an Ohio union steelworker, he joined Teamster and Machinist bargaining units in each city. "We had a defined set of rules to work by and none of the horror stories [that are spread about conflicts between unions and employers]," says Kindred.
Everything changed in 2009 when Kindred moved to Ocala and got a job inspecting commercial building sites and producing drawing for upgrades to the city's storm water system. He had no union to join. Only the police and fire departments were organized.
Policy changes in his department, says Kindred, came down so frequently that "They needed a town crier to come through every morning and say 'hear ye, hear ye.'" Promotions were often reserved for managers' cronies. Competence and seniority counted for nothing.
The city's leaders announced austerity measures after the economic downturn of 2008. First, longevity awards would be discontinued. Then, a portion of the value of accrued vacation and sick leave would no longer be paid at retirement. And the city began changing from a defined benefit pension plan to a hybrid plan that would leave workers paying more out-of-pocket and sharing market risks with the city. The new plan, combining defined benefit and defined contribution portions, would lower the multiplier that is currently in place, leaving prospective retirees, like Kindred, age 55, with a lower benefit.
Kindred and some of his co-workers went to work. They contacted Local 1205, not just to organize a union, but for support in moving the city's political leaders to reverse their decision.
The city spent money on "pet projects like drunken sailors," says Kindred. But when officials ran out of money, the first place they looked was cutting pensions and other benefits. And, compared to similar Florida cities, management is top-heavy.
Winston Schuler, an engineering technician who has worked for Ocala for almost nine years, performing traffic timing studies and administering electronic management of the city's transportation system, saw the city's work force reduced by a third before the benefit changes were proposed. He told the Ocala StarBanner, "We do feel appreciated by the citizens, but don't feel that upper management feels the same way about us."
Schuler, like Kindred, the son of a union steelworker, drew up a questionnaire and asked his co-workers for ideas and counter-proposals for independent negotiations with the city. Then Schuler, Kindred and other bargaining unit members, led by a co-worker who is currently organizing other city professionals, set up a committee to meet with the city's managers to discuss the pension changes and propose other options.
"The city council passively listened while employees passionately stated how cutting benefits was a bad idea. Then council members would say that 'times are rough' and say they had no choice," says Kindred.
"Just as I was getting dejected about the lack of progress with our committee, I got an [organizing] letter from the IBEW," says Kindred. He made a commitment to organize. "I've always believed that old saying that all it takes for bad things to happen is for good people to stand by and do nothing."
Winning the organizing drive, he says, took a lot of "personal relationship building." There was "a lot of surprise from our co-workers when a familiar face came to the door [talking about the union]," says Kindred.
While there's still a lot of skepticism about what difference a union can make, says Schuler, his co-workers are hoping for the best as first contract negotiations begin.
"My wife and I have six children and five grandchildren. I've been working since I was 11. I'm 51 years old now and deserve a decent retirement."
Tommy Ward told the Ocala StarBanner, "We are looking forward to working with the city hand-in-hand, workers and city leaders."