Asplundh’s Mich. Workers Win Voice
October 10, 2014
Tree trimmers employed by Asplundh Tree Expert Co. in Southwest Michigan voted 69 to 11 for representation by Grand Rapids Local 876 on Oct. 2.
The strong vote closely follows three recent elections at Asplundh locations in West Virginia where 82 workers chose IBEW representation.
The Michigan campaign was initiated last winter after an Asplundh planner responsible for coordinating tree trimming with local utilities contacted IBEW’s Web site offering his help to organize a bargaining unit.
Severe storms had brought down power lines in the region. The planner said it looked like Asplundh’s tree crews working long, hard hours next to IBEW linemen seemed to finally realize it was time to share in the benefits of union representation.
Lead Organizer Brian Groom and Local 876 Organizer and Assistant Business Manager Chad Clark, answering the planner’s advice, went to work visiting several Asplundh “pull-out” locations in Michigan, lots where trucks and crews gather for dispatch.
“With 18 inches of snow on the ground, we visited several locations with a fact book about the IBEW and other literature. And, all that time, we only met one worker who was openly negative about the union,” says Groom.
Trimmers were invited to an informal meeting at a local pizza parlor to answer questions about the Brotherhood and to review benefits and contractual protections negotiated by IBEW at other Asplundh locations.
Asplundh has negotiated 80 collective bargaining agreements with unions, including dozens covering units of the IBEW.
Fully one third of the trimmers were native Spanish speakers. IBEW called upon an organizer from another union who was fluent in Spanish to help address their questions. The campaign escalated.
Armed with union authorization cards signed by 60 percent of the bargaining unit, IBEW called for an election.
Asplundh appealed the eligibility of some members to be part of the bargaining unit. But the National Labor Relations Board nevertheless called for an election.
“Our new members were really motivated to become part of the IBEW,” says Groom. Directly after the union vote, Asplundh’s challenge was formally denied by the NLRB.
New members have already selected a negotiating committee to begin work on a new contract.
Southwest Michigan Asplundh workers are managed by the company’s Region 63, with half of its workers located in Indiana.
“After hearing about what is going on in Michigan, Asplundh workers in Indiana said they, too wanted a piece of the action to gain a voice on the job with IBEW,” says Groom.
Indiana trimmers called Indianapolis Local 1393 asking for help with a campaign and have been signing authorization cards.
“Asplundh tree trimmers take great pride in their jobs and see joining the IBEW not as a means to hurt their employer, but as a way to become even more productive with more rewarding jobs,” says Groom.
Asplundh is currently the largest single contributor to the National Electrical Benefit Fund, a retirement fund for IBEW members supported by collectively-bargained hourly contributions from employers for each hour worked by members.