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November 2014

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Michael Mowrey

Ninth District International Vice President Michael Mowrey retired effective Nov. 1.

Brother Mowrey entered his inside journeyman wireman's apprenticeship in 1974 and began service as assistant business manager of San Luis Obispo, Calif., Local 639 in 1985.

"I caught on to organizing," says Mowrey, a former professional rodeo bull rider. The local, encompassing the jurisdiction of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, had, at times, hosted as many as 900 travelers. But its market share, he says, had declined to below 20 percent.

Compared to work on cattle ranches, he says, "I immediately gained an appreciation for the working conditions in the unionized electrical trade." As he talked to electricians about the benefits of representation, Mowrey says, "I drew more understanding of why they needed to be in the IBEW." After some successful recruitment attempts, he says, "I saw firsthand how the union improves people's lives."

Elected business manager in 1987, Mowrey was active in labor, political and civic affairs in his community. He served as vice president of the area's central labor council, on a county economic advisory committee and on the Democratic Central Committee of San Luis Obispo County. Under his leadership, Local 639 doubled its membership.

Mowrey was appointed a Ninth District international representative in 1995, then International Vice President in 1997.

During Mowrey's tenure, the Ninth District added 20,000 members. "That was the most satisfying aspect of my career," he says. "But we can never forget that 70 percent of all electricians and linemen are still not part of the IBEW and need to be organized."

The Ninth District covers a vast jurisdiction that includes California, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, part of Idaho as well as Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

The Ninth District demonstrated renewed unity between locals and branches during Mowrey's tenure, often visible during union conferences and conventions.

Asked how he maintained consensus and camaraderie over such a widespread, diverse terrain, Mowrey says, "I believe we should always treat others as we want to be treated. Whether you are from a small local or a big local, you are entitled to unity, honor and respect."

In retirement, Mowrey plans to do more volunteering in his church, finish some long-dormant projects around the house, play more golf and accompany his wife on horse rides.

"It was the highest honor and privilege just to be a journeyman inside wireman," says Mowrey. "To be able to serve above and beyond as an IBEW leader," he says, doubles the honor.

On behalf of the entire membership, the officers and staff wish Brother Mowrey a long, healthy and well-deserved retirement.


Michael Mowrey

John J. O'Rourke

International Representative John O'Rourke has been appointed Ninth District Vice President effective Nov. 1. O'Rourke replaces Mike Mowrey, who retired.

A member of San Francisco Local 6, O'Rourke completed his journeyman wiremen apprenticeship in 1983.

"I'm proud of the things I've done in the IBEW, but the highlight of my career still remains the day I was handed my journeyman ticket," he said.

The son of a San Francisco firefighter, O'Rourke was inspired to go into the trade by his older brother.

He became active in the local, serving on its executive board, as vice president and then president.

"I was lucky to have some great mentors when I first started out," he said. "They taught me two rules: One, be an excellent wireman. Two, be a good union man."

In 1999, O'Rourke was elected business manager. His top priority was organizing and building market share. "San Francisco is a strong union town, but we couldn't afford to become complacent," he said. "Even here our competition was getting a foothold and doing work that had traditionally been ours."

In 2012 he was appointed Ninth District international representative, servicing the Bay Area locals. Prior to his appointment as International Vice President, O'Rourke served as the Executive Assistant to Vice President Mowrey.

He served as chair of the law committee at the 2011 international convention and as chair of the secretary-treasurer's report committee at the 2006 convention.

He also opened the 2001 convention, held in his hometown.

In addition to his IBEW activities, Brother O'Rourke serves as president of the Bay Area Catholic Labor Coalition.

"Brother Mowrey is such a great leader and trade unionist, and I'm proud to follow in his footsteps," he said. "The Ninth District is blessed with a great team of international representatives and progressive and innovative business managers," he said of a region that includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Islands. "My goal for the district is simple: organize all those who work in the electrical industry into local unions."

The officers, staff and membership of the IBEW wish Brother O'Rourke great success in his new position.


John J. O'Rourke

Virgil Hamilton

IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill has appointed Virgil Hamilton the director of construction organizing in the Membership Development Department, effective Oct.1.

Brother Hamilton was born and raised in Spokane, Wash. After graduating from Central Valley High School in 1981, Hamilton received an associate degree in civil engineering from Spokane Community College in 1984. He then joined the U.S. Navy submarine force as an electronics technician.

Hamilton was responsible for maintaining the navigation equipment on board the USS Portsmouth, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered fast attack submarine until 1989. In early 1990, he was initiated into Spokane Local 73's apprenticeship program.

"I was a journey equipment operator before I went into the apprenticeship but electricians have better jobs, better pay, made more money and it's more mentally challenging than pulling levers all day," he said.

In 1995, Local 73's new business manager asked Hamilton to come on staff as an organizer.

"I had just topped out, but I had 20 years of experience in the construction trade, working nonunion the whole time I was growing up," Hamilton said. "I could relate very well to nonunion workers because I was one."

He found inspiration following the model of the IBEW's founders.

In 2000, Seattle Local 46 hired Hamilton to be an organizer, business representative and dispatcher. He became the salting coordinator, training IBEW members to take jobs with nonunion contractors to identify supervisors for organizing drives and build relationships with potential members.

From 1997 to 1999 Hamilton was secretary-treasurer, then president pro tem of the Eastern Washington Building Trades. From 2005 to 2008 he was a member of the Washington State Electrical Board.

Hamilton switched his ticket to Local 46 in 2002 and six years later was elected business manager. He was president of the Washington State Building Trades Council from 2008 to 2012.

Hamilton says his proudest achievement at Local 46 was making the local hall welcoming to everyone in the industry. When the state electrical board increased the continuing education requirements for licensed electricians, Local 46 opened classes to non-members for $25 a year.

"The constitution says to cultivate friendships and if you have a better way of doing it than keeping their license current and rubbing elbows with them for eight hours, well, go ahead," Hamilton said.

A year ago, President Hill appointed Hamilton to be a Ninth District international representative.

The IBEW officers, staff and membership wish Brother Hamilton success in his new position.


Virgil Hamilton

Carmella Thomas

IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill has appointed Carmella Thomas Director of Professional and Industrial Organizing for the Membership Development Department, effective Sept. 1.

A Kansas native, Thomas was initiated into Topeka Local 304 in 1994 while working as a customer service representative for utility Westar Energy. Quickly getting active in the local, she served as steward and chief steward before helping organize nonmembers at the company in a right-to-work state.

"We were 98 percent strong" with the workforce, said Thomas, who took an active role in bringing new employees into the union.

Thomas said that the sense of solidarity and equality that she enjoyed with the union tempered many of the life experiences she'd faced growing up in the Midwest.

"Organizing is something that I love, because being an African-American female, everything is about not having that voice," she said. "Society and employers can take your voice away. But with the union, we're all equal. We're all on the same page. It doesn't matter who you are. As a union, you stand for one thing — working people. And that is what moved me from day one."

After five years at Westar, Thomas was tapped to become a full time organizer for Local 304. One of her biggest successes from that period was a 2003 campaign with fellow organizer Tim Bowden, now the regional organizing coordinator for the Seventh District, to organize more than 200 call center and meter readers at El Paso Electric.

"It was a huge win," said Thomas, as the largely Hispanic workforce experienced significant mistreatment from management. "When they came out of the election, they were in tears. They were so excited."

After that victory, President Hill appointed Thomas as a lead organizer for the International Office in 2004, then as regional organizing coordinator for 10 Southern states in 2006. She became a field representative for the Education Department in 2009.

In 2013, Thomas moved back into the Membership Development fold as the regional organizing coordinator for the Fifth District. Based in Atlanta, Thomas said organizing in the Deep South — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida — presented significant challenges but offered rewards.

"You can never even begin to get into campaigns if you don't understand, learn and feel the people's struggles," she said. "Everybody's taken their voice away, but once you get them to talk, they'll keep talking" about the improvements they need in their lives, she said.

"It's not just the P&I side that's going to be doing internal organizing. It's going to be the IBEW, period. Our goal is to touch those nonmembers, because that makes our contracts stronger, our union density better and helps out our economy and our communities," she said.

The entire staff of the IBEW wishes Sister Thomas great success in her new position.


Carmella Thomas

A. Don Clark

We regret to report that Fifth District International Representative Aubrey "Don" Clark died on Aug. 12.

"He totally believed in the IBEW and trying to help people," says retired Fifth District International Representative Joe Pledger.

A native of Hattiesburg, Miss., Brother Clark was initiated into Gulfport Local 1211 in 1982. He worked for Mississippi Power Co. for 30 years and was elected treasurer and president of Local 1211. He served on the executive board of the Mississippi AFL-CIO.

From 2005 to 2007, Clark served as business manager of System Council U-21, before being appointed to the International staff, servicing utility and manufacturing locals in the Fifth District. He retired in June as a lead organizer.

Clark played bass guitar for years in a local band "The Relative Unknowns." A member of the Gulf Coast Mustang Club, Clark's orange-colored Roush 427 followed the hearse at his funeral.

"Don put everything he had into the IBEW in organizing, servicing and winning the best contracts," says Pledger, adding that Clark told his wife, Margaret, to make sure he was buried with his IBEW lapel pin.

On behalf of the entire membership and staff, the officers send our condolences to Brother Clark's family.


A. Don Clark