The Electrical Worker online
May 2014

Utah Members Vote for Expanded Use of Alternative Classifications
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Salt Lake City Local 354 Business Manager Rich Kingery didn't know what to expect before last December's special membership meeting, but he was well prepared. He had his Power Point presentation ready, crammed with figures and numbers, all pointing to the fact that the use of recovery agreements has resulted in tens of thousands of man-hours for Local 354 members.

He had a good reason to do his homework. Kingery was going to ask the membership to vote in favor of replacing the existing market resurgence agreement — as they called their recovery agreement — with an addendum to their inside agreement allowing the use of alternative job classifications on all projects in their jurisdiction, not just small jobs.

After watching the work dry up after the 2008 economic crash, the local introduced the use of construction electricians and construction wiremen to help contractors craft more competitive bids.

"Around 28 percent of my members were on the bench back then," he said. And the slowing of the construction market only increased competition from low-road competitors, even on big industrial and commercial jobs.

"Continuing to do things the same old way wasn't going to put my members back to work," he said.

Local 354 saw the number of bids on commercial and industrial projects jump by more than 15 percent, Kingery told the Electrical Worker in 2012.

"The reality is that when you have less than 50 percent market share, you cannot delude yourself into believing that you dominate any one construction area," he said. "You have to be honest with yourself and your members, and recognize the fact that the market is much more competitive than it used to be."

This new approach saw almost immediate results, with more work for the IBEW on some of Utah's biggest construction projects, including a National Security Agency data center, Adobe's Utah campus, an eBay customer service center, the Utah Museum of Natural History, an expansion project for Boeing and oil refinery work. Contractors also won jobs on everything from grocery stores to universities, resulting in more than 450,000 man-hours for journeyman wiremen since the market resurgence agreement was adopted in 2012.

It was clear that using CEs/CWs meant more work for journeymen, but Kingery knew that contractors needed to expand their use in order to remain competitive for jobs coming down the pike.

"Using CEs and CWs helps our contractors reduce their crew composite cost, enabling them to win projects with new customers," he said. "Why would we not extend the same cost savings to our established, loyal customers?"

That, along with the local's commitment to the Code of Excellence, has won Local 354 many supporters across Utah. "The IBEW is simply more than a vendor for the hospital, they are our partner," said Phil Robinson, president of the St. Joseph Medical Center.

Kingery knew the resolution would be controversial among some, who saw CEs as stealing jobs that should go to journeymen. But as many IBEW locals have found out, the use of alternative classifications and more competitive rates results in jobs the union would not have won otherwise. The best he could do was to lay out the facts and let the members decide.

"I wanted to make sure they had all the information I had," he said. "The final decision was theirs."

That approach worked, with members overwhelming voting to include recovery agreements on all future projects.

One of those members was Jeb Bruce. A wireman since 2007, Bruce said that despite having some doubts about the CE/CW program, the local's leadership "gave us the data they have been tracking for the past few years and was able to show that utilizing the market recovery agreement was more successful than using market recovery money."

"There was a lot of misinformation that we were able to clear up," Kingery said.


Salt Lake City is witnessing a construction boom, and much of that work is going to the IBEW, thanks to the use of alternative job classifications.

Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user Doug Kerr.