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October 2015

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RENEW: Busting Union Stereotypes in the South

For Caleb Long, hard work, public service, and the importance of education were values instilled early on in life. Long's father, Eddie Long, is a 41-year veteran of Chattanooga's Local 175, and growing up in a union household meant security and a chance to chase not only a college education, but a master's degree as well.

But after years at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, including two during his apprenticeship, Long was ready for a career, and not one that left him sitting in a cubicle all day.

"When I was a student, I had no experience or any kind of background in construction other than being from a blue-collar household," he said. "But coming out of school, I was just like any other kid. I didn't know what I wanted to do, and I came to know construction work as something I enjoyed a lot."

Today, Long is a journeyman inside wireman working on the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Barr Unit 2 nuclear plant. Expected to be completed later this year, Unit 2 will be the first nuclear reactor to come online in the United States in more than two decades.

But Long has been making the most waves in Chattanooga for the work he isn't being paid for. As one of the leaders of Local 175's active RENEW (Reach out and Engage Next-Gen Electrical Workers) chapter, he and his fellow young leaders are giving back to their community and drawing the right kind of attention.

Most recently, the group of about 20 RENEW members collected 52 backpacks worth of school supplies along with the Chattanooga Area Labor Council, accounting for more than half of the North Chattanooga Recreation Center's goal.

And in May, RENEW members coordinated logistics and entered four teams in Hamilton County's Relay for Life charity walk, raising more than $5,000 for the American Cancer Society and drawing lots of positive press in the local newspapers.

"It's a way that [the community] can see there's not a bunch of young knuckleheads out there wasting or squandering the hard work and effort that got Local 175 to where it is today," Long said of the group's service activities.

"Every meeting, we ask our group a simple question," Long said. "'What do you want to do?' And then we'll do it. And we've used that to empower the individual, we've used it to empower the local, and we've used it to advertise labor's value within the community."

The last part, Long says, is integral in growing union density in the historically unfriendly South. As the Tenth District representative on the RENEW committee, he hopes to continue harnessing the energy from RENEW projects to promote labor in communities across every district.

Business Manager Barry Key, who retired at the end of August after more than 40 years, praised the work his local's RENEW chapter has done. "They're very loyal to their cause," he said, "And they take a lot of their own time to do things that get Local 175's name out there. There's a great future for this local thanks in part to the good work they're doing."

For Long, giving back to the brotherhood that has done so much for him has special meaning.

"For 38 years, I have benefited from a union paycheck — either my dad's or my own — and my son continues to benefit from a union paycheck. For those outside of union labor, it can be hard to understand," he said. "But my dad was always able to provide for his family, and now I've always been able to provide for mine. And that's what it's all about."


RENEW members Caleb Long, left, Duane Evans, and Mike Starling deliver a check to Melinda Craft, a representative of the American Cancer Society, after their participation in May's Relay for Life event.


Zack Ballard, left, Toby Shelton, Darius Long, and Zac Painter of Chattanooga Local 175 RENEW volunteering at the city's Relay for Life.

Want to Start a RENEW Chapter in Your Local Union but Not Sure How?

RENEW, the young workers initiative of the IBEW since 2011, has chapters across the United States and Canada. But the goal is for every local union to have one, said the Civic and Community Engagement Department's Rachel Bryan, international representative for community outreach.

With the input of the RENEW Advisory Committee, RENEW is rolling out a new toolkit. Available electronically on the Local Connections section of, it offers guidance to young workers looking to create a RENEW program, including:

  • How to establish and structure a committee

  • Determining relevant issues crucial to younger members

  • How to reach out and work with other labor unions and community groups

  • Templates and proven strategies to move the IBEW forward.

"With so many nearing retirement," she said. "It's time for us to step up.