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July 2016

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IBEW Sisters Attend U.N. Women's Global
Leadership Program

Talking about women's issues from a global perspective is a tall, sprawling order. To do it in a meaningful way isn't easy. But for the IBEW sisters who attended the Women's Global Leadership Program in March, they left inspired and enlightened.

Each year, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, a global policy-making body focused on gender equality, holds meetings to address a range of issues. This year, the focus was on economic empowerment and the AFL-CIO convened a four-day conference in New York to coincide with the U.N. meetings. Fifty people were accepted. Five were from the IBEW.

"It was a great opportunity to meet women from all over the world who are working on labor issues," said Sherilyn Wright, executive assistant to International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "There is a lot that we can learn from each other."

The agenda included workshops and panels on the global economy and organizing, and meetings of the U.N. Commission.

"It opened my eyes to the global picture," said Erin Sullivan, a steward with New York Local 3 and chairwoman of the Third District's Women's Committee. She also wrote about the program for her local.

Attendees learned about the global supply chain and how actions in the U.S. impact working people across oceans.

"Everything has a price. Walmart says 'save more, live better.' Well, we pay less but it's on the backs of others," Sullivan said. "Somebody is getting exploited in the supply chain."

"Women workers across borders share common struggles and it is critical that we band together to push for a fair and inclusive economy," said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who spoke at the conference. Shuler is also a member of Portland, Ore., Local 125.

A new AFL-CIO report, "Transforming Women's Work: Policies for an Inclusive Economic Agenda," explores the link between growing income inequality and declining unionization and notes that the benefits of membership are often greater for women. For instance, in Canada, trade union women earn close to CA$7 more than their nonunion counterparts.

It also noted how fields that are over-represented by women are "feminized," and is isn't until these jobs are "defeminized" with more men that wages go up. Relatedly, women are underrepresented in the industrial sector which tends to pay higher wages.

"As a union electrician with a good salary and benefits, I didn't realize how undervalued women's work is," said International Representative Rachel Bryan.

"Prior to this conference, I had not visualized the impact of the global economy on women," said Florida Building and Construction Trades President Theresa King. "Other than general knowledge from my trades training, I really only knew about my own country's economics." King is also a member of Tampa, Fla., Local 915.

The attendees also discussed IBEW's role in promoting women in the trades.

"We have to take out the 'she' and 'he' and replace it with 'we.' Women's issues are everyone's issues," Sullivan said.

"Men and women need to band together and fight back against stereotypes about what constitutes men's and women's work," Shuler said.

"It's going to take brothers advocating for sisters," Bryan said.

"The IBEW has moved beyond a lot of other trades in recognizing that women bring a lot to the advancement of our industry," King said. "I am a proud IBEW construction electrician and would not have been able to excel as far as I have without the support and encouragement from my brothers and sisters."


IBEW sisters attended the AFL-CIO's Women's Global Leadership Program, including International Representative Rachel Bryan, left; Theresa King, president of the Florida Building and Construction Trades; Sherilyn Wright, executive assistant to the International President; Cindy O'Meara, president of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Local 1362; and Erin Sullivan, New York Local 3 steward.

Young Worker Safety Motivates NextGen in Canada

Since 2013, NextGen members of Toronto, Ontario, Local 636 have volunteered at high schools as part of the My Safe Work program, which advises workers and management throughout Canada on ways to improve workplace safety while also increasing productivity.

"Safety is a primary mission of the IBEW," said Kate Walsh, strategic coordinator of the NextGen initiative, Canada's program for young IBEW members. "Young workers are disproportionately more likely to get hurt on the job than older workers. They don't know the questions to ask and sometimes don't realize they have the right to say no to unsafe work."

Walsh said the outreach isn't necessarily for recruitment, although it can happen. Instead, it reminds young workers of their rights and responsibilities on the job and aligns with NextGen's mission of community service, she said.

NextGen members heard from a teenage girl who was asked to make cash deposits of $1,000 in the early-morning hours after the restaurant she worked in had closed for the evening. She was concerned about her safety.

NextGen workers reminded her she had the right to ask for an adult to accompany her and worked with her to ensure that would happen.

"After going to those presentations and helping those kids, you feel a real power to help," Walsh said. "Anytime we can make that connection, it's a huge opportunity for our NextGen folks."

NextGen is the First District and Canadian version of RENEW, the IBEW's initiative in the United States to mobilize members 35 years and younger and provide leadership training.

NextGen held its annual caucus at the All Canada Progress Meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in May, and safety was a theme. Among the presenters was Safe Workers of Tomorrow, a Winnipeg-based advocacy group that also educates young workers about workplace safety.


Young members from IBEW locals in Canada at the recent NextGen conference.

In Chicago, A Commitment to Diversity

The city of Chicago is taking steps to diversify the ranks of the building trades and Chicago Local 134 has joined the fold. Through an effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Building Trades, Dunbar High School will be home to a comprehensive, citywide construction trades program.

"A job in the trades is a good job and we want everyone to have that opportunity," said Local 134 Business Manager Donald B. Finn. "Our doors are open to everybody."

The program is expected to begin in the 2016-2017 school year and will serve up to 120 students. Students in their junior and senior years will learn skills in fields including general construction; carpentry; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning; welding; and electricity. Upon graduation, students will be well placed to enter a pre-apprenticeship program as well as post-secondary education or a certification program.

While open to all city residents, preference will be given to applicants from the surrounding area. The Dunbar campus is located in the predominantly African-American Bronzeville neighborhood, with a student body that is 97 percent black, says the Chicago Sun Times.

The construction trades program is part of a larger effort by the city to offer more opportunities to underserved communities, many of which have issues with violence and unemployment, the local ABC station reported.

"The biggest piece of confronting violence is providing people opportunity and hope and having the trades in the schools will allow you to do that," Emanuel said at a press conference announcing the program.

Dunbar currently offers career and technical training and used to offer construction trades classes during World War II, reported the Chicago Sun-Times.

Local 134 participates in a similar program with Simeon High School, also located in Chicago, and has a member on the teaching staff. Finn says that someone from the local will likely teach at Dunbar as well. Additionally, the local's' new union hall will be across the street.

"That was just a happy coincidence," Finn said of the hall's location.

Finn also noted the aging of the construction workforce and the need to train the next generation.

"We're doing everything we can to get the younger generation involved," Finn said. "Programs like this give everyone a shot. It's beneficial all around."


Chicago Local 134 Business Manager Don Finn, left, with a student at a new construction trades program.