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August 2016

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Modesto Local Hears Call,
Raises Flagpole Over Community Center

George Russell spent more than two years asking city officials in Modesto, Calif., to install a new flagpole in front of a city-owned community center. All he got in return was frustration.

But after Modesto Local 684 Business Manager Billy Powell read about the situation, the pole was retrofitted with new LED lighting by the local's members about a month later. And it came at no cost to city taxpayers.

"I appreciate everything they did," Russell said. "They stepped up to the plate."

Added Powell: "We have received many calls and thank-you letters for it."

Here is how it happened.

Russell served 21 years in the U.S. Navy. He now is a board member for the King-Kennedy Memorial Center on Modesto's west side. The center is named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and opened in 1969, a year after the two men were assassinated.

The flagpole has been vandalized over the years and the American flag stolen on multiple occasions. The pole also didn't have lights for night display. Russell asked the city to install a new pole with lighting and a way to keep vandals from stealing the flag, such as running the cable to raise it on the inside of the pole.

As a veteran, Russell took it as an insult the flag wasn't being properly displayed, especially in front of a facility named for two prominent figures in American history. As someone active in the community, he thought political leaders were showing a lack of respect for the west side, an economically struggling area of the city.

"It gets neglected," Russell said. "I am a homeowner and I live in west Modesto. They keep cutting taxes and cutting services and keep asking the community to do different things. "

Russell said elected officials stonewalled or told him it wasn't in the city's budget. The situation came to a head on March 3 when the Modesto Bee reported on Russell's appearance before the city council two days earlier.

Russell asked council members why they wouldn't appropriate a few thousand dollars for the new flagpole. Some council members expressed sympathy, but most said it needed to go through the proper channels and sent it to a committee for more study.

"I put them on the spot," he said. "I asked them, 'Where is your priority?'"

Powell was among those who read about Russell's appearance. He noted that Local 684 members have a tradition of volunteering in the community.

"Lighting a flagpole is our line of work," he said.

Powell met with representatives from the community center, who enthusiastically accepted the offer for help. The Local 684 management committee and executive board both unanimously approved the project within a few days.

A ceremony to dedicate the new pole was held on April 8, with Modesto Fire Fighters Local 1289 donating a flag and promising replacements as needed. Local 684 was honored by the council publicly on June 7.

"Once they said they were going to do this, it was like hallelujah," said Carole Collins, the center's program manager. "That meant it was going to happen. With the city, they may say they're going to do this, but you're always looking at at least a year or more down the road with all the red tape and bureaucracy."

Collins also gave Local 684 members high marks for how they handled the construction. To top it off, they donated $250 to a local Boys and Girls Club that meets at the center, she said.

"They were always here," she said. "They kept in contact with us, telling us what they had done, what they needed to do and what supplies they were waiting for to come in. Things moved so quickly."

"Even the cleanup when they finished, the lawn looked better than when they came in," Collins added. "They made sure to put the dirt back in and swept the sidewalk. They gave that extra attention you would expect at your home if you were paying for that service."

Local 684 inside wireman Matt Paine, who helped install the flagpole, noted the local's signatory contractors stepped up to cover the cost. That effort was led by Collins Electrical, for whom Paine works as a traffic signal superintendent. The project cost about $2,500, Powell said.

"I'm proud I was able to help out in the community," Paine said. "I was proud that my company had no problem helping out in the community. That's what it comes back to for me."

Powell had one priority while building the flagpole: To make sure the LED light shining on the flag at night was American made. The flag itself also was made in the United States.

"We are not putting an LED light made in China on top of this flagpole," he said. "We found a manufacturer here in the United States. Everything turned out great."

Modesto had a local election earlier this year and Powell said the project allowed him to build a relationship with Ted Brandvold, the new mayor.

"That's been very positive," he said. "We didn't do it for the kudos, but it has been nice to be recognized for what the local has done at different events."


The dedication ceremony for a new flagpole outside the King-Kennedy Memorial Center on April 8. Modesto Local 684 and its signatory contractors donated money and labor to install it.

Boston Local Hosts First-Ever Trade Conference for Girls

Over 400 girls converged on Boston Local 103's headquarters recently for a first-of-its-kind opportunity to learn about the building trades, and how to get a job in one.

The event, organized by the Massachusetts Girls in Trade Advisory Group, involved 18 area high schools, local businesses and nearly 20 labor unions representing all the building trades, including Local 103 and Springfield Local 7.

The March 30 conference was spearheaded by Minuteman High School and Wynn Everett, a hotel and resort chain, as part of an effort to create a pipeline to encourage young women to join the trades.

"Too many women have been frozen out [of the trades]," said Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades. "You should feel comfortable in a union hall or at a jobsite. Massachusetts Girls in Trade shows that many young women are interested in rewarding, high-wage careers in the trades."

There are currently 3,000 high school girls who are enrolled in programs in the trades in Massachusetts, yet most do not end up working in the field, said Maryanne Nadeau Ham, school administrator for Minuteman High.

"We believe we can provide the necessary guidance to career and technical educators to help open pathways for their students to these high-paying careers in construction trades," Nadeau Ham said.

The attendees heard from women working in the trades and participated in workshops, including "Becoming a Union Tradeswoman." They also toured the Local 103 training center and visited an exhibition hall populated by 50 exhibitors.

"It was a great day and a great opportunity," said Local 103 Business Manager John P. Dumas. "I'm glad we could be a part of it."

One of the conference speakers was Amenyonah Bossman, assistant superintendent at Suffolk Construction.

"When you know what you want to do, stick with it," Bossman said. "You're going to find people here — men and women — who are supportive of your goals."

One of those supporters is Mark Kuenzel, Local 7's training director.

"It was excellent. I heard a lot of good questions from the girls," Kuenzel said of the event. "It was great to speak to the counselors as well."

Many high school counselors lack an education on what the trades can offer, Kuenzel said, like the college credit that comes with many apprenticeships. Oftentimes technical careers are overlooked in favor of four-year college degrees, despite those careers offering a pathway to college.

"The biggest thing is recruiting. We might even need to start sooner, in middle school," he said. "That way you have more time to try the trades out. It takes a certain kind of personality, and that's true for men and women."

Nygren, a telecommunications technician, teaches telecommunications and fiber optics at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. She also sits on the alumni board for Wentworth Institute of Technology and serves on the mentoring committee.

"At 15, it's hard to know whether they'll stay involved, but a lot of them seem interested," she said of her freshmen, six of whom are girls she recruited for an exploratory class, in part by sharing her experience and telling them how in demand women are in the field.

"I'm trying to show them a part of this industry and that you can make almost $100,000 a year as a journeyman electrician," Nygren said. "And construction is booming in Boston. There are cranes on every corner."

At least one of the attendees may well find herself a mentee of Nygren. Minuteman High School senior Midalia Ramos said the conference was rewarding, reported, a local publication. And maybe even life-changing.

"One of my most memorable moments was speaking to one of the tradeswomen at the IBEW Local 103 booth," said Ramos. "She is now 10 years into her career and was really inspiring. I'm hoping she will be able to mentor me because we really hit it off. For the first time in my life, I really want something, and that is to join the IBEW and be a part of Local 103."


Boston Local 103 hosted a first-of-its-kind conference to encourage girls to enter the trades. Among the attendees were students from Minuteman High School: Lola Clemente, left, Erica Grandon, Aibhlinn Moore, Lindsey Kelly, Haley Rice, Hannah English, Midalia Ramos, Kendra Hennigan and Kaylah Bennett.

Photo credit: Neeva Coovert, Minuteman student photographer

Michigan Retirees Step Up to Miller Museum Challenge

In June's Electrical Worker, we checked in on progress at the Henry Miller Museum in St. Louis, the former boardinghouse where Henry Miller and nine other delegates founded the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 1891.

Locals and individuals from across the U.S. and Canada have generously donated to the Electrical Workers Historical Society, so far raising more than $2 million of the $6 million it's expected to cost to restore and maintain the building.

But one local and its retirees are taking a unique and creative approach to raising money for the project, and they hope their effort will inspire others to do the same.

It all started when the former business managers for Muskegon, Mich., Local 275 (and Grand Rapids Local 107, which was amalgamated into the former in 1996) got together for their regular monthly breakfast in March. Local 275 had already donated $10,000 to the museum project, but former business manager and retired International Representative Jim Rudicil wanted to do more.

"There's just so much history in the IBEW," Rudicil said, "and it seemed to the group of us like the retirees should be a part of preserving that too." So the six of them pledged $2,500 and challenged their fellow retired brothers and sisters to match it, planning to purchase an inscribed 24-by-24 inch paver to be placed in Founders Park adjoining the museum.

The group approached Business Manager Sean Egan with their plan, and days later a letter went out to the local's retirees. Checks started coming in almost immediately, Egan said, raising more than $700 in a week. A second letter in May finished the job, collecting another $2,500 for the cause.

"That second letter really did the trick," Rudicil said. "We told the retirees, 'Let's spend some of these business managers' money,' and in it came." In the end, the effort will send more than their $5,000 goal to the Henry Miller Museum, and a stone marker will commemorate the effort, reading "Generously contributed by the retirees of IBEW Local 275."

"We're really proud of our retirees for answering the call and our former business managers for taking the initiative on this," Egan said. "Preserving this important part of the IBEW's history is something all of us should have a stake in."

For his part, Rudicil hopes Local 275's retirees can spur similar efforts in locals all over the U.S. and Canada. "The whole intent was to set an example," he said. "We're planning a letter to retired international representatives next."

In St. Louis, where electrical work is being completed and drywall being hung at the Miller museum, the money can't come soon enough.

"We're so grateful for the support of all of our members and locals," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who is also chairman the Electrical Workers Historical Society. "Every little bit helps to make sure our great union's history is here for generations to come, and creative approaches like this one set a marker for others to aim for.

"Rebuilding this boardinghouse where the IBEW came into existence should be a real point of pride for all of us," Stephenson said, "and we're excited to open the doors in September."

Donations to the Henry Miller Museum can be made at or by mailing checks to Electrical Workers Historical Society, c/o IBEW Local 1, 5850 Elizabeth Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110.


Retired business managers George Robinson Jr., Howard Leroux, Bill Tuinstra, Jim Rudicil and Ben Robinson hatched the fundraising plan, assisted by Local 275 Business Manager Sean Egan and Membership Development Coordinator Walter Christopherson.


Items like custom coins, engraved bricks and pavers, even benches and light poles are available for sponsorship through the Electrical Workers Historical Society.

Eighth District RENEW Prepares for Election Season

Young workers can play an important role in the political process, and Assistant Business Manager Nate Gutierrez of Denver Local 111 wants to make sure they know that. With the election coming up, he is using his local's RENEW chapter as a gateway to get them involved.

"It is very important for young members to be active in politics," Gutierrez said. RENEW, or Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers, is one way he hopes to get more young members at his local to do that.

Established at the 38th International Convention in 2011, the initiative seeks to engage young members and get them more involved with their union and in their communities, and statistics show there is plenty of room for improvement

According to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, less than half of the voting population between the ages of 18 and 29 participated in the 2012 election. All other age groups exceeded 50 percent participation.

This low level of participation is nothing new among young voters. The same report shows that young people have always lagged behind, but Gutierrez does not want this to be the case when it comes to his peers at Local 111.

Their RENEW chapter has teamed up with the Colorado Young Workers, a politically active group of young union workers across the state, to assist with voter registration. At regular meetings, a member of the Colorado Young Workers comes to the union hall and registers members directly on an electronic tablet, making the process quick and easy.

Gutierrez is a member of Local 111's RENEW chapter and sits on the Eighth District's RENEW Advisory Committee, which covers Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.

"In a region this diverse, young members have a lot of different issues that they care about," Gutierrez said. "Getting them to understand the issues that impact them is the struggle."

RENEW gives young members a forum for discussion. In Denver, matters such as living wage as well as the high cost of living within the city are important to young workers.

So far, Gutierrez believes the effort to engage Local 111's young members is taking hold. He hopes this will spread beyond the Mile High City, as other locals within the Eighth District have expressed their interest in starting their own RENEW chapters.

"I don't know why every local isn't getting involved with RENEW," Gutierrez said, "With the help of the International Office, it's spreading."

With RENEW on the rise, he hopes, so is the next generation of informed and politically active union members.