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May 2015

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Ala. RENEW Leader: 'We Have to Keep Reaching Out'

After finishing high school, Alabama native Brandon Cardwell had dreams of becoming an airplane mechanic. But after serving in the Air National Guard, his uncle, a union contractor, suggested an alternative career path: IBEW electrician.

Today he serves as assistant business manager of Montgomery Local 443. But his biggest job is to get the next generation of IBEW members engaged with their union.

Cardwell serves on the advisory committee of RENEW — Reach Out and Energize Next Gen-Electrical Workers — a union-wide initiative to inspire younger members to get active in their locals.

As a young worker, Cardwell began volunteering for tasks in the local soon after he joined more than a decade ago. One of the first things he did was to attend local-sponsored industry nights, where he talked with nonunion electricians about what it meant to work IBEW.

He also worked as an instructor with the Electrical Training Alliance (formerly the National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee).

His business manager noted his teaching skills, and soon Cardwell was named training director.

"I enjoy talking to people about the trade," he said.

He also appreciates the opportunity to talk with younger members about the importance of a being an involved, educated union member.

It's a tough job, especially being in the right-to-work Deep South. "A lot of the newer people feel disconnected from their union," he said. "They just aren't informed."

The first thing he tells them: be seen.

"People need to come to meetings, volunteer their time," he said. But, he says, the IBEW needs to do a better job at getting the message out about why it's so important.

"That's why RENEW is vital," he said.

In March, Cardwell, along with more than 400 other young IBEW activists, were in Chicago for RENEW's second conference.

Workshops were offered in everything from understanding the IBEW's history and structure and setting up a RENEW chapter to public speaking and media tactics.

Attendees also shared their stories and experience in building RENEW in their area.

Cardwell says he plans to take what he learned back to his local to encourage more RENEW activism.

You can find out more on RENEW's Facebook page at (all caps).


Local 443's assistant business manager, Brandon Cardwell, at the RENEW conference in Chicago.