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February 2014

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Five years after the end of the worst recession since 1929, Ohio is inching its way back to economic recovery.

The state lost tens of thousands of jobs in manufacturing, services and construction as a result of the 2008 crash. Cuyahoga County, home to the state's largest city, Cleveland, shed 120,000 jobs alone.

As elsewhere, construction was particularly hard hit. Industry unemployment spiked to more than 20 percent in 2010.

Jobs are finally returning, with the construction industry adding more than 190,000 jobs in 2013, but there is still a long way to go before full recovery sets in.

For the IBEW and the building trades in general, the Great Recession wasn't the beginning of tough times, but the continuation of a challenging environment that had eaten into union market share for decades. Outsourcing had eroded Ohio's industrial base — bread and butter work for the IBEW — while aggressive nonunion competitors dominated the small construction market, as big industrial jobs became scarce.

Nonunion contractors had also been making big strides in other sectors traditionally strong for the IBEW, including large commercial and hospital jobs.

These are the circumstances IBEW's recovery agreements are meant to address: winning work where the IBEW isn't doing it and taking back market share from the competition.

And in Ohio, these efforts are starting to bear fruit, at last putting the Buckeye State IBEW on the road to recovery.

Steady Growth for Akron Local

A doctor's office here. A strip mall there. None of them are huge projects, but over time they've added up to increased man-hours and market share for Akron Local 306.

The Akron region, once known as the rubber capital of the world, was badly battered by years of outsourcing and downsizing, which wiped out tens of thousands of good manufacturing jobs. The 2008 recession only added to Ohio's economic woes, bringing the construction market to a near standstill.

Enter the Northern Ohio Recovery Agreement.

"Without it we wouldn't have many of the jobs we have now," said Ohio State Organizing Coordinator Ron Ols.

The agreement was adopted by nine locals in 2010 to help the IBEW break into construction sectors it traditionally avoided: retail, small commercial and residential.

Since then, the IBEW has performed more than 800 recovery agreement jobs throughout Northern Ohio — jobs the IBEW would have not won without the use of alternative classifications.

Construction wiremen and construction electricians are electrical workers below journeyman level who are not enrolled in an apprenticeship program. By incorporating CEs and CWs into jobs, contractors can lower their composite rate, making them more competitive with nonunion contractors.

Traditionally dependent on big industrial, commercial and university projects, Local 306 started using CEs and CWs to go after the small jobs that it had all but ceded to the nonunion competition.

"The smaller the job, the harder it is to be competitive," said Local 306 Business Manager Michael Might. "Alternative classifications gave us the flexibility to win bids. We're talking drive-ins, gas stations and the like. It's work and it is helping to put journeymen back on the job."

Local 306 has also been using Project Tracker, the International Office-developed software that allows business managers and organizers to track upcoming projects in their area, to aggressively bid on jobs.

"When we see a project, we call the contractor and say 'let's get on that,'" Might said.

This spring, the local will be building a new hotel in downtown Akron and working on some renovation and expansion projects at Kent State University.

And market share is seeing strong, progressive growth. In 2004, the local had less than 40 percent of the electrical construction market, according to Might. Last year it neared 50 percent.

"It feels good to drive by a Dollar Store or similar job and know that it has IBEW members on it," Ols said.

Cleveland Local Back on Track

The Industrial Valley on the Cuyahoga River, just south of downtown Cleveland, was once home to some of the world's top steel powerhouses, with major steel producers LTV, Republic and US Steel all housing factories in the city.

In addition to employing thousands of manufacturing workers, those plants also guaranteed IBEW electricians steady work, maintaining the massive facilities.

That was then. Today, the steel industry is a shadow of what it once was, which has meant Local 38 needed to get aggressive about breaking into new markets.

Since adopting the Northern Ohio Recovery Agreement in 2010, Local 38 has made notable inroads into the growing small commercial and residential market. "Yogurt shops, gas stations, residential homes, we're getting the work," said Business Manager Dennis Meaney.

He says it took some convincing to get signatory contractors to go after these jobs, but today Local 38's contractors are aggressively bidding work they never thought they could win.

"It really helped keep the work steady — for them and for us," Meaney said.

The use of alternative classifications has also revived the local's long moribund residential branch.

"We've built a house here and there, and done some renovations and panel changes," he said.

These small jobs helped Local 38 make it through some tough times in Cuyahoga County, supplementing industrial and commercial work that dried up due to the recession.

Alternative classifications also gave the IBEW a tool to pressure the nonunion competition, even during the downturn.

"We stripped a lot of our competitors' workforce, which meant they had to increase pay and benefits if they wanted to keep them," Meaney said. "Without the CE and CW job classifications, we wouldn't have been able to do that."

Construction is picking up in the city, including some large commercial projects. Local 38 worked on the recently completed downtown convention center and is gearing up for a 600-room hotel and new condominium and apartment buildings.

Miami Valley in Full Recovery Mode

Dozens of shiny new slot machines entice visitors to Miami Valley's first-ever "racino," which opened its doors late last year. A combination of a slot machine gaming facility and horse track, the 198,000-square-foot gaming attraction is expected to bring more than $24 million to the region in its first year alone.

When it came to wiring one of southwest Ohio's most high profile projects, developers turned to the best.

Approximately 130 electricians and teledata technicians — members of Hamilton Local 648 — worked on the facility, which was one of the biggest projects the local has done in years.

The IBEW's top notch work on the racino put it in the running for a massive, $350 million mixed use retail/residential project in nearby Liberty Township.

After more than three years of declining market share, Local 648 is in full recovery mode.

"We were sitting on around 35 to 40 percent unemployment when the recession hit," said Local 648 Business Manager Jeff McGuffey.

McGuffey credits the aggressive use of recovery agreements by the local and signatory contractors for the IBEW's turnaround in this part of Ohio. In 2010, Local 648 got serious about incorporating CEs and CWs into the job mix.

"It has been a vital tool in capturing work we usually struggle to get," McGuffey said.

After winning contractors over to the idea, Local 648 starting manning jobs that traditionally went to the competition, including a CVS drug store — just the kind of small works projects the IBEW needs to grow its market share.

"That's the first CVS we've done in, what, 12 to 13 years?" McGuffey said. The contractor who did the job has been asked to build two more.

When it was announced that Buffalo, N.Y., general contractor LPCiminelli would be building the racino, McGuffey knew they would have to make their bid as competitive as possible.

"They didn't use union labor all that much and we were going to face tough competition," he said.

Adding alternative classifications to the contractor's bid gave the IBEW the competitive edge by lowering the composite rate, securing the racino project, said Fourth District Organizing Coordinator Gary Osborne.

The use of CEs/CWs has also given the IBEW a new way to pressure the nonunion competition by stripping workers.

"We have to adapt," McGuffey said. "If you look at the model on the nonunion side, where they use many workers who don't qualify as a journeyman or apprentice, we handicap ourselves by sticking to the standard journeyman/apprenticeship composition."

The majority of the work on the racino was done by journeymen, with approximately 15 CEs/CWs backing up the apprentices.

McGuffey says it is important that alternative classifications not be considered permanent sub-positions, but as a way to help prepare workers for an apprenticeship program.

In 2012, a little under half of the incoming apprenticeship class were CEs or CWs, with a couple more experienced members testing into third year placement.

McGuffey expects even more in 2014.

"We're getting the work, which means we can recruit even more of our competition's workforce," he said.



Ohio construction is putting IBEW members back to work, on projects including Cleveland's new convention center, top, and the Miami Valley's first-ever combined gaming facility and horse track.

From CE to Journeyman: One Ohio Member's Story

Hamilton, Ohio, native Justin Rogers remembers the day when he discovered what he wanted to do with his life.

It was career day at his high school and after visiting the electrician booth, he said, "Yep, that's what I want to do."

But with a stellar academic record — he graduated second in his class — Rogers was dissuaded by his guidance counselor, who told him he needed to go to college instead.

But his heart wasn't in it, and after a couple of years at the University of Cincinnati, Rogers dropped out to pursue his dream of becoming an electrician.

But getting into the trade wasn't easy. He was aware of the IBEW and its apprenticeship program, but said it he didn't get much help in applying. "To be honest, the people I spoke with weren't very welcoming," the 35-year-old said. Plus, he needed to start making money right away. So when a friend let him know about an opening with a nonunion contractor, he took it.

He worked six years in the nonunion sector, working on both small projects like fast-food restaurants and residential construction and larger jobs like hospitals.

Laid off in 2010, he sent applications to different contractors, which gave him the chance to become reacquainted with the IBEW.

Hamilton Local 648 Business Manager Jeff McGuffey met with Rogers, and told him about the construction electrician/construction wiremen program the local had just implemented.

The alternative classifications allowed Rogers to start working right away as a member of Local 648 in 2010, with better wages and benefits than he made working nonunion.

"I needed to work," he said. "I already had many years in the trade and this program put me on the job right away as an IBEW member."

The CE/CW program also put Rogers on the road to full journeyman status.

"The local kept an eye out for the top guys in the program to move them into full apprenticeship," he said.

Rogers' experience and some previous trade schooling allowed him to skip a couple years; he will finish the program this year.

"The CW/CE program is the the tool we needed to recruit qualified electricians like Justin away from the competition," said Business Manager McGuffey.