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RENEW Members Boost Leadership Skills,
Look to Future


August 21, 2014

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Members of the IBEW’s RENEW initiative in Dearborn, Mich., for the Young Worker Leadership Institute, a six-day workshop hosted by the AFL-CIO. Participants discussed issues with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, back row, center.

For any budding journeyman wireman looking to advance in the trade, training is always the key.


The same could be said for young workers who are looking to make an impact on their job sites, at their locals and in their communities.

Fourteen members of the IBEW’s Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers – or RENEW – initiative traveled this spring to Dearborn, Mich., to attend the Young Worker Leadership Institute, a confab hosted by the AFL-CIO.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 405 journeyman wireman Jeff Cooling said the conference provided the kinds of trainings to help him boost his activism back in the Hawkeye state.

“I learned many great things to bring back to my young workers group,” said Cooling, a seven-year member currently working for a signatory contractor building a new dorm facility at the University of Iowa.

Forty participants from across the U.S. attended the six-day institute. The IBEW contingent was the largest of all unions represented. Attendees studied communication strategies, organizational development, political engagement, common-sense economics and more. Participants also discussed issues with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who has made youth engagement one of the centerpieces of her role since taking her post  at the federation in 2009.

For young workers like Cooling, 26, trainings like this help progress and refine burgeoning leadership skills.

“I joined the local in September of 2007 and started going to meetings right away,” he said. “I had a big drive to go and see how the union worked. I started being active with the 2008 election cycle, when I knocked on my first doors.” Since then, Cooling has been active in many regular and special elections and now serves as a registrar at his local. He is also the Eleventh District representative on the RENEW Advisory Council, which is comprised of young IBEW leaders from each district who meet and strategize ways to increase union participation and activism among their peers.

In spite of many anti-worker lawmakers and a chorus of pundits and powerful interests vying for the hearts and minds of millennials, young people are overwhelmingly embracing the idea of unionism. A Recent Pew Research Center Poll showed that 61 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 held a favorable view of organized labor – the highest of any age demographic.

“I am always reaching out to everyone I meet,” Cooling said. “I introduce myself as a union electrician.”

Following the recent recession, the job market for today’s youth remains thorny. A Harvard study published last year reveals that just six in 10 millennials – young people born between 1981 and 1996 – have a job, half of which are part-time. In a February piece for the Atlantic, Jordan Weissmann writes that “at every education level, the 25- to 32-year-olds of 2013 confronted a higher unemployment rate than past generations did when they were stepping into the workforce.” 

Cooling said the ramifications of those statistics can cast a chilling effect on many members of his peer group. “We are in a time that mirrors the Roaring ‘20s in this country,” he said. “Wall Street and big business are making record profits while jobs like mine, which used to be better-than-average, have not seen the wage growth needed to keep a standard of living to raise a family. With my generation’s high approval of unions and our thirst for knowledge, it is important that we, the IBEW, teach what a union is and what it can do for everyone going forward.”

For more information on RENEW or to get involved, visit the group’s official Facebook page.


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