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April 2014

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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No employer or labor organization
operates in a vacuum.

It's a lot harder to sustain good jobs or organize new members if local and state politicians take their cues from wealthy campaign donors who want to weaken our unions.

Across the nation, IBEW locals and their members are engaged in grassroots political initiatives and lobbying to convince our elected leaders to support good union jobs.

With this ongoing series, we will discuss some of those efforts.


IBEW locals in states and municipalities across North America are mobilizing to defend good jobs from being eroded by right-wing politicians.

Bill Will Protect Call Center Jobs

Nearly 20,000 Maine residents work in call centers, like legendary retailer L.L. Bean's, employing 2,000. FairPoint Communications, Verizon's successor, employs 700 IBEW members and 220 Communications Workers of America members at three call centers in the state.

"We have good, family-sustaining union jobs," says Krista Jensen, a 17-year Augusta Local 2327 member who works in FairPoint's call center in Portland. "But our jobs can be moved anywhere anytime."

Last year, Local 2327 won a court case upholding an arbitration settlement protesting FairPoint's subcontracting work from Jensen's call center. While savoring the win, Assistant Business Manager Jenn Nappi asked what could be done to support those workers in the industry who have no union to advocate for them.

Two years ago, for example, Bank of America closed its Orono call center, laying off 200 workers. The bank operates several call centers in the Philippines.

Nappi knew that U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) had co-sponsored a bill in Congress to force companies to reveal to consumers where their offshore call centers are located, giving them an option to switch their calls back to the U.S. But there was nothing in Maine's laws to protect the thousands who perform similar functions.

So Nappi got together with some fellow unionists in CWA and worked with State Sen. Troy Jackson to introduce a bill in the legislature to protect call center jobs. The bill, which has been widely covered by print and TV news media across the state, would require any employer that outsources more than 30 percent of its call center work overseas to submit the information to the state.

Employers whose names appear on the state's list would be barred from receiving state grants, loans or tax benefits for five years. And they would be required to immediately pay back grants, loans or tax benefits received.

In addition, the bill requires that all call center work for executive branch agencies be performed in state.

Dozens of citizens spoke in favor of the bill at a February hearing, says Nappi, who has attended legislative work sessions on the legislation.

House Republicans released a press statement saying the bill would "inflict a death sentence" on businesses that move some of their operations out of state.


Maine call center workers speak up against outsourcing.

Nashville Licensing Law Promotes Safety, Local Hiring

With a New York Bank data center project, upgrades to a General Motors auto plant and a new convention center job on the books, leaders of Nashville Local 429 figured the time was right to move an electrical licensing law through the Davidson County Council, a 40-member body that covers the celebrated music city and surrounding suburbs.

"We made licensing a safety issue," Business Manager John Ledwell said. "Our members are well trained to protect themselves and others, but too many electricians out there cut corners that put themselves and customers in jeopardy."

In November, the council passed a licensing law that requires all electricians on county projects to pass a certification examination and work under the direction of a journeyman electrician or master electrician. Preparations for the law, patterned after the county's plumber certification, began in 2010, spearheaded by Local 429 President Mike Bearden. Ledwell revived lobbying efforts last year after Bearden's death.

"We were ready to go with a media blitz and billboards to make our case for certification," says Ledwell. But the high-octane campaign wasn't necessary.

Highly-respected Councilman Bo Mitchell, now a state delegate, introduced the ordinance and secured many sponsors. The council's vote on the measure was scheduled at a meeting that became embroiled in debate over a proposal for a new baseball field. The licensing ordinance quickly passed just before adjournment.

Associated Builders and Contractors, the nonunion group, accused the union of sneaking the ordinance through. "They don't have a leg to stand on. Everything was public," Ledwell said. "The winners will be the local workers who prepare for certification and are available when jobs open up."

"We expect our adversaries to go after Bo Mitchell, [a Democrat in Republican-majority district] hot and heavy," says Ledwell. "But we will be ready to defend him and re-elect him."