The Electrical Worker online
July 2015

'Making the Lives of Working People Better'
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EW: Looking back on your career from the time you entered your apprenticeship, how has the appreciation for the union's role and legacy changed?

EDH: I think the desire to be more active in the trade union movement was more prevalent among my peers than among today's new members. When I was a young man coming up through the ranks in Pennsylvania, every town had two or three union halls. Weddings, community meetings and other affairs would be held there. Union meetings were a place one went for camaraderie, not just to discuss the problems of the day. Along with the union halls were clubs of all types. Today, too many union halls are closed down. The remaining ones often turn out only a few members for meetings. And clubs are dwindling. But the need to be our brother's and sister's keeper is still there.

I don't know whether the labor movement is destined to grow stronger as globalization and changes take place in our national economies and priorities.

I do know that tomorrow's labor movement will be different from that of the past or even the present. Strength will come in different forms. Some companies, for instance, are trying to bring over a European model of trade unionism where we co-manage workplaces through work councils. I'm not sure it will work here. But I know new forms of organization will develop.

EW: What are you most proud of in your career?

EDH: The thing that makes me most proud is that I have been able to contribute to making the lives of working people better.

EW: What goal(s) did you want to accomplish that you couldn't?

EDH: One hundred percent market share. That was always my goal: to see that every electrical worker in the U.S. and Canada belongs to the IBEW.

EW: How do the skills and priorities of today's union leaders compare to those that were required when you first entered union office?

EDH: Our message about influence and participation of unions in the communities in which we live and the need for workers to stand together to retain the middle class of working men and women is similar, but the need for better, sharper methods in how we communicate that message is much greater.

EW: What are your concerns about the future of the IBEW?

EDH: Apathy is my biggest concern. The IBEW will survive many years into the future. But too many of our members don't give much thought to what it really means to be a member of a union or to support its operation. We need to protect the ideals of the labor movement. Too often, we care about each other as IBEW members, but don't see ourselves as part of a movement. The potential is there. I can see it in the response to the Unity Fund we set up for members in trouble. It's flourishing.

I'm concerned about our members and others in the trade union movement falling for the nonsense that was spread so thickly during the Reagan era that everyone can make it on their own, that you don't need anyone, that it does not take a community. You will survive on individualism, the idea that if we privatized Social Security and Medicare, for instance, young folks will be better off in their later years. If we do that, and, if the divide between the wealthiest among us and working people continues to grow, we will see more people fall into poverty.

I'll never forget my grandfather saying, "Don't send me down to the poor farm." There actually was such a place across the river from my hometown. It was a farm that grew vegetables and cattle for large workplaces where they had cafeterias. People lived, worked and died there. We can never let our society go back to that kind of society.

EW: Why is Lonnie Stephenson the right leader to replace you?

EDH: Lonnie is the right person for the time going forward. He has the right disposition and the right attitude about the things that need to be done. Today, we are seeing different types of business managers elected in many locals. They have a whole different kind of attitude. They didn't live through the glory days. People never told them what they can't do, making them more accepting of the necessary changes that are bound to come.

Lonnie understands the need for all of us to be leaders in our community, not just people who stand on the sidelines and complain. The new business managers and members coming up need to mobilize to be partners with others in the community, not just people who appear to be looking for a handout. I know Lonnie Stephenson shares that desire and will work hard to promote those kinds of partnerships.

EW: You have had an extraordinary level of energy — constantly traveling and spending long hours on meeting the needs of IBEW members. How will you spend your time in retirement?

EDH: I knew it was time to retire after our May meeting with reps and directors outside of Washington, D.C. Our union is on a smooth and level road and ready for new leadership.

I know I won't be retired from the labor movement until they put me in the ground. And I will continue to pay my dues so that I can maintain my good standing in the IBEW, a Brotherhood that I have spent my life serving.

I will be available for whatever kind of help International President Stephenson needs. I hope to stay involved in my community around Beaver, Pa., and reconnect with some of my trade union friends who have slipped away from activity. I think people care. I just think sometimes they need to be reminded of the work that needs to be done and their ability to help.

I hope to be able to participate in any kind of effort on behalf of workers. I hope to be more active in Electricians Without Borders and in the efforts to help electrical workers establish themselves anywhere I can. I will assist wherever I can to stop the erosion of the industrial base that built the United States and Canada and to fight for policies in energy and manufacturing that will help to bring back the dwindling middle class.


President Hill walks a picket line with striking IBEW members at FairPoint Communications in New England.