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September 2015

Organizing Wire
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Sun Shines on Calif. Solar Workers' Organizing Drive

In the parched expanse of California's Mojave Desert, there's little escape from the scorching heat.

The abundant sunshine is good news for the 91,000 households that rely on the Abengoa Mojave Solar facility, a 280-megawatt plant about two hours northeast of Los Angeles that provides clean energy to a power-hungry state.

But for the nearly 60 employees maintaining day-to-day operations at the site, it can be a grueling job. Extreme temperatures, safety concerns, favoritism and nepotism had been weighing on the workers. And recent murmurs of the Spain-based multinational company bringing in foreign replacements didn't help.

"That was a big fear," said organizer Bob Oedy. "The workers wanted the protections of a collective bargaining agreement."

Last October, employees reached out to Diamond Bar Local 47 for representation. A three-month campaign resulted in a decisive victory for workers, who voted "yes" by a 4-1 margin in an NLRB-certified election.

"We could tell right off the bat that it was going to be a good campaign," Oedy said. Local 47 organizers Rick Garcia and Tracy Dougherty joined with Oedy and Lead Organizer Mark Meyer to tap the resources of a robust volunteer organizing committee. "The meetings were fantastic," said Oedy, who, along with other leaders, spent many nights after the workers' shifts answering questions and building solidarity among the employees.

Company resistance largely backfired. Management used carrot-and-stick techniques like holding captive audience meetings while also mailing the employees Christmas cards that included gift certificates to local merchants.

"It just came off as insincere," Oedy said. "They'd never done that in previous years, and the workers saw through it. Overall, they knew the union was a good bet for them."

Bloomberg Business reported last November that Abengoa's profit rose 37 percent for the first nine months of 2014, peaking at $124.4 million.

IBEW leaders said that the employees are currently preparing a negotiating committee to bargain for a first contract.


Solar workers scored a runaway victory in a Mojave Desert organizing drive.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Jeff Turner.

Ind. 911 Dispatchers Unite for Fair Contract

When an emergency happens, quick thinking by 911 dispatchers can mean the difference between life and death.

In northwest Indiana, nearly 100 emergency dispatchers in Lake County, Ind., direct firefighters, ambulances and police to dangerous scenes. Many have logged decades on the job. But a new law last year that sought to upgrade response times in the county merged all area responders under the same umbrella. Now, instead of working for 17 separate cities and townships, each with different pay and benefit packages, the dispatchers will work out of a state-of-the-art response station as some of the newest employees of Lake County's government.

The change has come with both risks and rewards, said Downers Grove, Ill., Local 21 Business Representative Byron Bonham.

"This is great news for the area in terms of safety — but there's a downside," he said. Namely, all the employees have had to essentially reapply for their jobs. The changeover has also caused confusion about seniority rules, vacation schedules, overtime and a host of other issues.

In January, some of the dispatchers reached out to Local 21, which is about an hour's drive northwest across the state border. What followed was a smooth effort to bring bargaining rights to the employees, who voted 68-4 for representation in an NLRB-sponsored election on June 16.

"They were just looking for a voice," said Bonham, who characterized the talks between county management and the workforce as amicable. "The county has been cooperative with other employees who are with the Teamsters and the Fraternal Order of Police — they followed the rules of a campaign to the letter." Bonham said the county shunned hosting captive audience meetings or engaging in negative dealings. "We all acted like professionals," he said.

Consolidating the work crew into one central location does have some advantages, Bonham said. New computer systems, software and upgraded equipment will make many tasks easier, and having a larger group of employees will reduce the staffing challenges that can arise at a two- or three-person workplace, as some had been used to.

The workers are also looking to address some proposed new rules, scheduling changes and the possibility of mandatory overtime in contract talks. "Now we have more than 90 people who are all looking to speak with one voice."

Bonham thanked Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697 leaders for their time and resources and said that both the area carpenters local and the Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor are helping ensure a win-win process for the workers and the county. "Because of everyone's efforts, there was no negative campaigning and everyone was positive. The county has said how much they respect organized labor — not just the IBEW, but everybody."

Local 21 Business Manager Paul Wright said he looks forward to contract negotiations. "The dispatchers protect the county's citizens every day," he said. "We look forward to working with county representatives to negotiate a contract that rewards them for their service to the residents of Lake County."


Lake County, Ind., emergency dispatchers organized with little opposition from management.