The Electrical Worker online
March 2015

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
Poll: Americans Will Pay for Grid Upgrades

More than 40 percent of Americans east of the Mississippi, and just over a third of those to the west, are willing to pay at least $10 a month more on their utility bills for grid upgrades according to a poll released this summer by Harris Interactive. The average U.S. utility bill in 2012 was just over $105 a month according to data from the Energy Information Agency.

One possible explanation for the difference was that respondents east of the Mississippi were three times more likely to report a power outage (three percent against one percent.)

The poll, conducted for GE's Digital Energy business, surveyed more than 2,000 voting-age Americans last spring.

The poll also found that more than 80 percent of respondents wanted their utility to do more to encourage energy conservation and nearly the same number wanted their utility to increase renewable energy generation with solar, wind and geothermal biogas.

The poll also asked questions about the public's understanding of the grid. More than 50 percent believed weather was the greatest threat to the grid. In the Northeast, 61 percent thought so.

Utility Department Director Jim Hunter said the poll provided valuable support for investments in manpower and infrastructure.

"There is nothing in this poll that we haven't known anecdotally, but accurate polling data is very useful when we talk with lawmakers and regulators," Hunter said. "But, a lot of this is just common sense. The more our lives depend on electronic devices, the more people realize how important the grid is. A smartphone isn't very useful if you can't charge it."


A recent Harris Poll found many Americans would pay more for electricity if it were used to make the grid more reliable.

Construction Unemployment Lowest Since 2007

Construction unemployment last year was at its lowest level in nearly seven years. At 8.9 percent, 2014 was the first time annual construction unemployment was below 10 percent since 2007, according to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Monthly construction unemployment also fell below seven percent — to 6.4 percent in November — for the first time since the beginning of the Great Recession.

"I'm actually surprised the number is that high based on what I am seeing," said Eighth District International Vice President Jerry Bellah, whose district encompasses Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. "It isn't everywhere and the big population centers are definitely doing the best, but we are in a growth mode in the U.S. and Canada."

Bellah said the outside numbers are even better and the concern there is manning the work.

"I feel a lot better than I did 18 months ago and now is the time to focus on organizing and training," he said, "The No. 1 job is always making sure we capture the work while we grow."

Bellah said he is seeing positive signs that locals are responding, with increasing membership across the Brotherhood and a large jump in the number of apprentices.

While a vast improvement over 2009 (19 percent) and 2010 (20.6 percent), at 8.9 percent construction unemployment still lags far behind the general unemployment rate of 5.6 percent.

"The big change in this recovery is private money is just sitting on the sidelines," Bellah said. "Companies are cash rich but not hiring and I think the offshoring of manufacturing has meant they don't have to spend."


Construction Versus
General Unemployment

Construction unemployment is usually higher than overall unemployment, but during the Great Recession, it far outpaced the overall number. Construction unemployment has been closing in on the slowly falling overall rate, but the highly cyclical nature of construction employment — falling in the winter and rising as the weather improves — still leaves it much higher than the general population for much of the year.

IBEW Underwrites PBS

After launching successful national television advertising campaigns during NFL games and on cable news programs, the IBEW is extending its message to new audiences.

In the first week of January, 30-second underwriting messages began running during the week on the flagship public television programs the News Hour and Washington Week.

The ads, produced by the Media Department and adapted from the commercial ads, extend the campaign to raise the IBEW's profile and that of organized labor.

"There is a lot of misinformation — to put it generously — about who organized labor is," said International President Edwin D. Hill. "I am proud that we are in a position to lead a change in that conversation."

The IBEW is the first union to underwrite the News Hour and the first to run a 30-second sponsorship message nationally on public television. Historically underwriters have been large corporations, foundations and defense contractors.

"This is an opportunity to get our message in front of decision makers and business leaders who might not otherwise be thinking about the issues and accomplishments of working people," said Media Department Director Mark Brueggenjohann. "These messages show the diversity of our membership and also our ambition as a union to have a greater say in national conversations."

The spots will run through the middle of May.

RENEW Leader Energizes
New Generation of Local 3 Activists

You could say that the IBEW runs in New York City Local 3 member Chris Erikson Jr.'s blood. His father serves as business manager, as did his great-grandfather, Harry Van Arsdale Jr., and great-uncle, Thomas Van Ardale, and there was never much question that he would follow them into the trade.

So when the 30-year-old Erikson began his apprenticeship in 2007, he was well aware of the tradition of struggle and solidarity that made Local 3 what it is today.

But it's something many workers of his generation don't understand.

"A lot of them haven't been told about this history and why they have to be involved in the union if they want to protect the lifestyles we enjoy."

For more than a century Local 3 has been the leading force in the New York labor movement. Both Van Arsdales led not only Local 3, but the New York City Labor Council as well, leaving big shoes to fill for the next generation of members.

Since 2013, Local 3's Young Worker Committee has focused on getting young IBEW members involved in the local and educating the next generation of leaders.

Erikson chairs the committee. "One of our most basic tasks is communications," he says. "We want to start talking with new apprentices as soon as they join and spell out to them why it's so important for them be involved with Local 3."

Education is key, he says. The committee hosted a labor youth conference last September that was attended by more than 300 young workers. In addition to Local 3 members, the event attracted young members from other NYC building trades.

The committee ran workshops on the major challenges facing young workers and how the labor movement can address them, including using social media to communicate. It also sponsored short plays dealing with working class issues.

Community service is another top goal of the committee. "We've helped clean up parks, worked with church outreach programs for needy residents, helped install lights for Little League fields," he said. "It's a reminder how important it is for everyone to come together."

It's not all work however. Social events are vital for getting new members involved. The committee sponsored a big concert at Local 3's union hall that attracted more than 200 members and their families last summer.

Erikson is now bringing his experience in organizing young workers to the Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers (RENEW), the IBEW's initiative to get young workers involved in the union. He represents the Third District on RENEW's 12-person council.

"Education, community and social involvement are what we can do to move the NYC labor movement forward," he said.

Go to for information on youth organizing in the Third District.


New York Local 3 Youth Committee Chairman Christopher Erikson Jr. welcomes young workers to Local 3's youth conference.

At EWMC Conference, Young Workers Serve Community

Giving back. It's a fundamental premise of the IBEW and the labor movement in general.

That's why about 60 members of the IBEW's RENEW group gathered Jan. 15 in Atlanta to help renovate and beautify a community home for children in need.

Members of the young workers' group traveled to the city to attend the 25th Electrical Workers Minority Caucus conference.

"It was really an eye opener to see what the kids there needed," said Seattle Local 77 member Damian Hernandez, a lineman working for Lewis County Public Utility District.

Members gathered at the United Methodist Children's Home to paint offices, perform yard and gardening work, assist with trash collection and more. The organization offers shelter for families with small children, houses older youth who are in transitional living programs and facilitates foster care.

"It gives you a good feeling inside," said Hernandez, 35, who is a shop steward and serves on several committees at his local. "We all had our conference shirts on, and we just got into action. I've never done a community service activity where there were so many people."

The conference was planned to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, Jan. 14-18. Each EWMC conference includes a day of service in the host city's community. Numerous faith-based and community service organizations across the U.S. mark the weekend with service activities in the spirit of King, who once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'"

About 600 IBEW members, including nearly 200 young workers, attended this year's conference.

"It's inspiring to help an organization like the children's home, and it's great to be working alongside so many people dedicated to the cause of making sure we have an inclusive union," said Houston Local 716 member Mike Jackson, 31. The fifth-year apprentice serves on the Young Workers Advisory Council for the AFL-CIO.

The RENEW contingent also hosted its own day-long seminar Jan. 14, which featured workshops on technology and communication skills.

"Young workers are often seen as the fountain for energy, excitement and passion," said International Representative Tarn Goeling. "But enthusiasm alone can't wipe away generations of struggle. We must always carry our collective beginnings within our hearts and grow from the lessons our predecessors learned.

"Like" RENEW's official Facebook page at

El Paso Local Hits Wage Theft

Nonunion Texas electrical contractors looking to turn a quick buck on prevailing wage projects often look for projects in El Paso.

Located on the Rio Grande River just across from Juarez, Mexico, the city teems with workers vulnerable to wage theft, targeted by contractors who pay them less than the prevailing rates by misclassifying the actual work they perform.

Last year, two workers who had been working as electricians on a large bus maintenance shop for the Sun Metro, the local bus company, showed up at El Paso Local 583's union office. They told organizer William Markwell that, despite performing electrical work, they were being paid as laborers by Beltran Electrical Contractors, a nonunion outfit. Their hourly rates of pay hovered at a meager $7.90 per hour. Markwell had already had suspicions about wage theft after following the bus shop project on IBEW's Project Tracker.

It wasn't Local 583's first encounter with Beltran. A few years back the local had issued a complaint about the company using unlicensed electricians. Beltran was fined $750.

"This stuff happens constantly in our area," says Markwell. Beltran, like other contractors charged with wage theft, said they made a mistake. "But it wasn't a mistake," says Markwell. "It's how Beltran [and other irresponsible contractors in the border town] bid jobs," calculating their savings from paying improper rates.

Markwell investigated the electricians' complaint and found they weren't even reported on the company's certified payroll. But they brought pictures of the electrical work they performed along with pay stubs. Sure enough, they were performing electrical work and working well below scale. He reported the wage theft to the city.

The electricians, who had moved on to work for another contractor, went back to Beltran asking to be paid the difference between laborer rates and electrician pay. Beltran cut them checks but Markwell says they were still left shortchanged.

Soon, more Beltran electricians were contacting Local 583 with similar complaints. Markwell spoke with the local union's attorneys, who advised him that Beltran was liable for fines of $50 per day for violating prevailing wage requirements.

Markwell heard the city was considering withholding its final payment to Beltran pending a settlement of the worker misclassification issue. He was told the issue would be discussed at the next city council meeting.

Working with Lift Up El Paso, a local coalition of union, faith and community groups, Markwell addressed the city council on the need to address Beltran's conduct. The city's attorney announced El Paso was withholding payments to the Urban Associates, the general contractor that enlisted Beltran for the bus facility, until the wage theft issue was resolved.

As the city tries to recover lost wages for Beltran's workers, Local 583 and Lift Up El Paso are working to pass an ordinance that would prohibit companies that have been convicted of wage theft from being able to bid for contracts by the city. A similar ordinance was passed in Houston.

The El Paso City Council passed a nonbinding resolution opposing wage theft in 2011. But it contained no enforcement procedures.

Jed Untereker, legal director for the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project, told the El Paso Times that an ordinance would call for creating a database of "bad actors" who have been found guilty of wage theft by civil or criminal courts or by state or federal agencies.