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July 2015

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Iron Mike's New Mission

Los Angeles Local 11 organizer Mike Kufchak embodies the ethos of the modern labor movement. He is 100 percent committed to the safety and well-being of the men and women he works with, has a near religious commitment to the dignity of earning an honest wage with honest effort and he will fight for what he believes is best for himself, his team and his employer.

Actually, literally fight.

Until Kufchak went to work for Los Angeles Local 11 in 2014, he had only ever had one employer: the United States Marine Corps. And Mike Kufchak was not just any Marine. At his retirement Sgt. Maj. "Iron" Mike Kufchak was the senior enlisted noncommissioned officer for the 1st Marine Division, the oldest and largest active duty division in the United States Marine Corps, representing a combat-ready force of more than 26,000 men and women.

Kufchak is a lifelong infantryman. Twice awarded the Bronze Star for action in combat, he also wore a Purple Heart on his chest. An IED explosion in Fallujah in May 2006 killed one of his men and took the vision in his right — that is, shooting — eye. He taught himself to shoot left-handed and redeployed to Afghanistan.

Kufchak retired in 2013 after nearly 32 years in the Marines and he wasn't interested in a new job. He was looking for a new mission. And he found one at Local 11.

Kufchak is now the director of veteran's affairs. His task is to make good on Business Manager Marvin Kropke's 2013 commitment that 50 percent of incoming apprentices would be veterans.

"I always thought my job was looking out for my brothers and sisters, and I still consider that to be my job," Kufchak said. "I am helping all my brothers and sisters in the armed forces find careers, good careers, and they will recognize the camaraderie in the union embrace."

Kropke, an army veteran who was wounded in Vietnam, met Kufchak during the preparation for a fundraiser to benefit wounded veterans.

"He is the real deal. The selection process to become the senior enlisted in one of three Marine infantry divisions speaks for itself," Kropke said. "I told him, I don't know what you have planned for after you retire, but I have a plan to help people coming home from these wars in a way my generation did not."

Kropke had an idea for a program that would recruit the best candidates and give them the support to get them into the apprenticeship. What he needed was a recruiter welcome on any military installation with a reputation for always leading his troops to safety, opportunity and, ultimately, success.

It was not the only offer Kufchak received. But it was the one that he came back to because, he said, it was the opportunity with the most challenge and the most reward. For Kufchak, the prize is taking the veterans who returned home safe and giving them the opportunity to thrive.

"What I tell them is that if they are looking for a career where you feel the same charge to look after one another, the same challenge, physical and mental, and the opportunity to make a difference, you will find it in the IBEW," Kufchak said. "You will make a good living, but I am not looking for the people who just ask about money. I am looking for the men and women who want to be part of something bigger."

Kropke found his champion and in less than a year on the job, Kufchak has become more than the chief military recruiter.

"He destroys every [inaccurate] stereotype of unions there is. Our contractors, elected officials, nonunion workers, they look at him and see all that is good in this nation and how Local 11 connects to it," Kropke said. "He is affecting the perception of what a union is. We are about jobs, but also community and mission."

It is still early days at Local 11 for Kufchak, and the local is still about 10 percent short of the 50 percent goal. But Kufchak said he feels like has found a new place to call home.

"One of the reasons I joined is because it aligns with my moral compass," he said. "These young men and women transitioning from the military are really looking to kick their lives off, moving in a forward progression, and really, what better way to do that than to embrace a trade such as the electrical trades that will carry them through for the rest of their lives?"



Retired Sgt. Maj. Mike Kufchak left the 1st Marine Infantry Division after 31 years to become director of veterans' affairs for Los Angeles Local 11.

(photo: United States Marine Corps)