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July 2015

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General Motors Goes Greener with Help from Ohio IBEW

New car buyers are more concerned than ever with gas mileage and emissions. But if you want to go truly green, it helps not just to look at the car's carbon footprint, but also the factory where it's built.

In Lordstown, Ohio, General Motors has assembled more than 15 million cars over nearly 50 years. Now, IBEW members have upgraded the company's manufacturing facility with two massive renewable energy projects, just the latest in GM's growing commitment to renewables.

A new 6.5-acre solar array supplies more than 2 megawatts of clean power to the plant, where members of the United Auto Workers Local 1112 build the Chevrolet Cruze sedan, one of the company's consistently popular compact cars.

Beginning last November, eight IBEW members worked demanding schedules during the harsh winter to install nearly 9,000 solar panels. The upgrade is the largest solar array for GM in the Western Hemisphere.

"We worked six and seven days a week, 10 hours per day, braving the cold the entire time — a lot during near-zero temperatures," said Local 573 member Jaime Burdette, general foreman of the crew employed by signatory contractor Dickie Electric.

Members also converted the plant's lighting fixtures to an LED system, which will reduce lighting costs by about 84 percent.

Local 573 Business Manager Jack Morse praised the members and the contractor for a job well done.

"This project is one of the showpieces for GM in North America," he said of the array. "It's right off the Ohio Turnpike, so everybody driving by can see it."

Morse said he thinks the success of the upgrade will inspire other area companies to invest more in solar power, offering local union members additional work opportunities.


The IBEW installed a massive solar array to help power GM's Chevy Cruze factory in Lordstown, Ohio.

IBEW Volunteers Fight Hunger in Wash.

Members of Tacoma, Wash., Local 483 donated a record 4,015 jars of peanut butter to the Emergency Food Network in Pierce County on May 13.

Local 483 coordinated 75 volunteers to form a human chain to move six tons — $12,000 worth — of donated peanut butter from the Local 483 building to the offices of the Pierce County Central Labor Council at Local 483's sister Tacoma local, Local 76, a block away.

"We have many unions that contribute to hunger relief, but IBEW is the heart of the labor movement on this issue," said Helen McGovern-Pilant, executive director of the Emergency Food Network.

The peanut butter has been distributed to food banks across Pierce County.

"Our local has supported the Emergency Food Network since 2011," said Local 483 Business Manager Alice Phillips, who also serves on the board of the organization. "The need for donations is great in Pierce County and we take this event very seriously. We've worked hard to earn first place in donations the last two years."

The event was covered by the Tacoma News Tribune and featured on the Local 483 Facebook page. IBEW members also launched a drone that provided video of the volunteers at work.

Local 483 received strong support from other local unions as well as friends in the electrical industry and the community. Many Local 483 members contributed generously to the cause.

"They spent their hard-earned money to help us show that IBEW cares deeply about our neighbors," Phillips said. "We were proud to place a label on each jar of peanut butter that states it was donated by members of Local 483.

Local 483 members started collecting peanut butter on Jan. 1. Phillips worked with area union grocery stores to get the most from the monetary donations they received.

One in five households relies on food bank donations in Pierce County, where the rebounding economy has left out the middle class, working class and working poor. "The elderly are struggling, working families can't find jobs at a decent wage and the foreclosure rate is high," said McGovern-Pilant. Since 2011 there has been an 11 percent increase in visits made to food banks in the county.


Volunteers form a human chain to deliver donated peanut butter for distribution in Pierce County, Wash.

N.J. Young Workers Give to Neighbors in Need

Talk to a member of the Cranbury, N.J., Local 94 NxtUp young worker committee, and you'll quickly get the sense that the future of the trade union movement is in good hands.

"We try to be engaged," said Adam Neuman, the recording secretary for the NxtUp group and chair of the state's AFL-CIO youth caucus. "We've been active in opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and right-to-work, and we do what we can to get other young workers involved."

But while Neuman and his fellow members have the big picture in mind, sometimes what's closer to home matters the most.

This spring, the committee sponsored a donation drive for the Rise Food Pantry, which shares the same street as Local 94's hall in central New Jersey. Over five weeks, the 14-member group raised about $6,000 worth of non-perishable items for the food bank.

"Our group just wants to give back to the community," said Neuman, a father of two who works for Public Service Electric and Gas as a mechanical operator. "We want to say that as the IBEW, we live and work here too. We want those who need a helping hand to be able to achieve their part of the American Dream."

Local leaders say that the need is great. "We see people walking over to the food bank every day," Local 94 Business Manager Buddy Thoman said. "Sometimes when you drive in to the hall, you have to stop in the road to make way for our neighbors who are carrying food."

This was the second year that the NxtUp group has collected donations for the pantry. Neuman said that young worker activists spoke with the organization's leaders and representatives of the nearby St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, to get a sense of the best way to help the neighborhood.

"Around the holidays, food pantries are pretty stocked," Neuman said. "We told them, give us a time when there's a lull, when you really need donations.'"

Joe Checkley, who chairs the NxtUp group, said his fellow members wanted to be able to do the most good at the right time. "They told us that following the holidays and coming around to April — that was a time when the donations would especially help," said the 34-year-old radiation protection worker for PSEG Nuclear, a branch of Public Service Electric and Gas.

Local 94 represents about 4,000 members who work in tree trimming, utilities and more. As members are spread out across the state, the young workers coordinated the donation effort at numerous worksites by engaging stewards to reach out to the broader membership. Many brought canned and boxed food, and others donated money so that the coordinators could purchase food at a local grocery store that offered a charity discount on their purchase. NxtUp members donated the items on April 27.

Leslie Koppel, Rise's executive director, said that the IBEW's contribution will greatly benefit the area households that her organization serves.

"Giving at a local level is the most important component to building strong communities, she said. "The IBEW 94 local is our neighbor, literally two doors down from us. They see firsthand the hundreds of families that go to the Rise Food Pantry each week."

State Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, who is president of Trenton Local 269, praised his fellow union brothers and sisters.

"This is a great thing to see — the working families, union families of New Jersey — putting forth a heartfelt effort to get the resources they need," he said.

Neuman said that there's a direct correlation to spreading the cause of unionism and combatting falling wages in his state.

"We just want to help people. Lots of things we have bargained for — these are what other people's wages are benchmarked against. It all starts on a grassroots level. You have to build power in the community, and show that you are doing things for the right reasons. And if you lend a helping hand, then when we [the IBEW] need a helping hand, you can count on people."

Checkley said that the group hopes to further their relationship with Rise. "We've laid the groundwork to be a partner with them in the community," he said.

The local's young worker group formed in 2013. "They're doing an awesome job," Thoman said. "The group is diverse in terms of business units — some are from nuclear, some from electrical distribution and more. There's good representation. They are truly dedicated to all working families in our state."


Cranbury, N.J., Local 94's young worker committee raised $6,000 in non-perishable items for an area food bank.

Seventh District RENEW Group Plots Course for Future

In the IBEW's Seventh District, organizers and activists have to contend not only with geographical sprawl, but also with prevailing attitudes that aren't always worker friendly.

Between the five states — Arizona, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas — the average union density is less than 6 percent, barely half the national average. All but New Mexico have right-to-work laws on the books.

Chris Reeves is hoping to help change that. At 33 years old, he's the youngest organizer ever to be on staff at Beaumont, Texas, Local 479. As the district's advisory committee representative for the RENEW — Reach out and Engage Next-generation Electrical Workers — initiative, he credits good leadership at his local and solid mentoring from some older members for helping him develop both the interest and the chops for what it's going to take to build stronger solidarity among young workers in the southwest.

"From a younger worker's perspective, we see some of these thinkers and politicians trying to suppress the middle class that holds the structure of America together," he said. "And as we go forward as a nation, our numbers of people in unions is shrinking."

That's one of the reasons he helped start a RENEW group at his local, which now has more than a dozen members. He is looking to grow this across the district, and was encouraged by the activism he saw at March's RENEW conference in Chicago, where he got to network with other like-minded young members across the region.

"As electricians, as union members, we have the responsibility to leave this industry better than we found it," he said. Reeves said communication is key, and advocates both face-to-face engagement at union meetings and embracing social media like Facebook.

"We're just getting started, but we have our sights set high," Reeves said.

Young workers living in the Seventh District are encouraged to contact him at to get active and help expand the growing RENEW program.