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January 2014

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Linemen's Wives Group Brings Financial,
Emotional Help to Families

Nashville, Tenn., Local 429 journeyman lineman Joey Taylor answered the call when the June 2012 derecho tore an 800-mile hole through the power grid, from Iowa to Virginia. Millions lost power and Taylor was one of the many IBEW members working the cleanup, where he was fatally electrocuted.

"He loved everything about this job," said Donna Taylor, Joey's wife of 12 years. "He was doing something routine, something he'd done a hundred times before. It was a freak accident."

A few days after Taylor's death, she found a large basket filled with fruit and cookies sitting on her front porch. The card was signed the National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen.

"I had no idea where it was from or who they were," Taylor said.

Taylor was given a contact number, for Terry Riffe, wife of Bobby, a 30-year member of Orlando, Fla., Local 222, and she called to thank her. Riffe said she was there for whatever Taylor needed. Rae Johnson, wife of Tom, a member of Willkes-Barre, Pa., Local 1319, called to see if Taylor needed financial assistance. Then Tracy Shanks, wife of Nick, a member of Chattanooga Local 175, called to check in as well.

"They were there more than my family was. Right there. It felt nice to talk to people who understood, some who had been through this themselves. It meant the world to me," Taylor said. "I was so overwhelmed that total strangers would come together and be there for me. I felt so blessed."

Seven months earlier, there was no NSUJL, there was just a conversation among the members of the IBEW linemen's wives Facebook group. There had been a series of accidents over the winter, and some of the members wanted to raise money and donate it to a charity for the families.

But they couldn't find one. Rae Johnson even hired a lawyer to look but he came up empty-handed.

"We just thought surely there is someone out there that does this. It was shocking. We were mad," Johnson said. "That turned into our fuel. Basically we said we will do this."

Within two weeks, a core group including Johnson, Riffe, Jessica Lackey (wife of Phil of Houston Local 66), Amanda Wilson (wife of Ryan, member of Des Moines Local 55) and Tennille Lundien (wife of Chance of Kansas City, Mo., Local 53), began collecting donations to incorporate as a nonprofit. None of them had experience working at, let alone founding or running, a nonprofit.

By March, they approved bylaws, made Johnson the first business manager and had sent a fundraising letter to each of the outside locals, explaining who they were and asking for donations. The response was immediate.

"It was always, 'Where do we send the checks?'" Johnson said.

That's also when they started getting questions.

"First we saw, yes, they were all wives of current IBEW members. Then we started hearing how they were paying out of their own pockets to be with families, sending checks for thousands of dollars to make sure the heat stayed on and the mortgage got paid," said Construction and Maintenance Department International Representative Ed Mings. "Pretty soon I was thinking this is the best thing I've seen in a long time."

Now, two years after those initial Facebook conversations, the group has 170 members across the country. They've sent more than $50,000 to 39 families of IBEW Journeymen Linemen, Utility Linemen, Apprentices, Groundmen and Operators in response to an injury, or all too often, a death.

They've logged thousands of miles in cars and on airplanes, visiting people, raising awareness at linemen's rodeos and local union meetings. Each year, the NSUJL hosts several fundraisers including a national 5K race and a rodeo of their own, where they raise lanterns inscribed with the name of fallen linemen to honor their memories. In 2013, the first two permanent employees were hired and they launched the John Plante Scholarship fund for the children of linemen, named in honor of the man whose death inspired that first online conversation and the creation of the NSUJL.

For 2014, Johnson says her goal is to double the group's membership to at least 300 and raise $200,000 in donations to add more outside classifications, hire a full time fundraiser and marketer and start reimbursing members, many of whom pay out of their own pockets to visit families after accidents. They are also looking for a volunteer to help launch a similar program for inside construction.

"We want every wife in this situation to know that the bond of this brotherhood includes the sisters too, and it is unbreakable," she said.

To find out more, make a donation or become a member, visit


Lanterns bearing the names of fallen IBEW members were displayed at the 2013 Linemen's Benefit Rodeo, hosted by the National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen.



An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the National Sisterhood United for Journeymen Linemen, a charity that provides emotional and financial support to families of IBEW Journeymen Linemen, Utility Linemen, Apprentices, Groundmen and Operators killed or injured on the job, also provided support for the families of tree-trimmers. Due to budget constraints, tree trimmers are not covered by NSUJL services. NSUJL Business Manager Rae Johnson said that they are hopeful that they will raise enough money this year to begin covering additional classifications this year and any change in policy will be announced on their website We regret the error.