After 34 years in the IBEW, Membership Development International Representative Alan Freeman has retired, effective Feb. 15.
Brother Freeman is a second generation inside wireman from Mansfield, Ohio, Local 688.
"I always knew I wanted to be an electrician," Freeman said. "I was the first-born son, so there was following my dad [Truman Freeman], but I was also just fascinated by electricity. I loved it."
Freeman applied for the apprenticeship on his 18th birthday, before he had graduated from high school, and was accepted a year later. He topped out in 1986, taking six years for his apprenticeship because work was slow. Freeman's career spanned the days when the industrial Midwest was transforming into the Rust Belt.
"I traveled my whole career, from Hartford, Conn., to Denver and everywhere in between," he said.
In 1993, Freeman was appointed to the organizing committee by then-Business Manager Kenneth Cooper, now the Fourth District international vice president. As Freeman recalls it, Local 688 was historically a construction local, but by the mid-'90s, telecom members outnumbered wiremen nearly 3 to 1.
"I asked whether we should probably focus more attention on organizing and pretty soon I found out it was my job," he said.
Freeman became a part-time organizer focused primarily on construction while still working with the tools and taking on leadership roles at the local. In 1995, he was elected to the local executive board and as vice president and a year later he was elected president.
Cooper said Freeman never set out to be an organizer.
"Sometimes you choose your career, sometimes it chooses you. Alan was the latter," Cooper said. "He was good at organizing because of his dedication and belief that this made people's lives better."
In 1996, the employees of Neer Manufacturing, a local conduit fitting plant, came to Local 688 for help after the local owners had sold out to a national company.
The challenge was that no one at the local could remember the last time they had run a traditional, NLRB election organizing campaign.
"It was trial and error. We were young enough and dumb enough to give it a whirl," Cooper said. "And it worked out."
Freeman said the night, a year after the election victory, when the workers signed their first contract was one of the highlights of his career.
After the success of the Neer campaign, Local 688 was asked to send someone for more organizing training. Cooper sent Freeman. He volunteered to work on organizing campaigns around the country — Baltimore Gas & Electric, Boeing and others — still working with tools between campaigns.
In 1999, than-International President J.J. Barry asked Freeman to become the first international representative in the newly formed Special Projects Department, which would later become the professional and industrial wing of the Membership Development Department.
It was Freeman's first full-time office job and he said he remembers standing in front of a mirror, after he moved to Washington, D.C., trying to teach himself how to tie a tie.
Freeman helped shape the Membership Development Department, from the content of the annual conference to developing the curriculum for organizing training courses.
Freeman says he will kick off retirement by refurbishing the 1951 Ford pickup he has owned for nearly 50 years.
"It starts, but won't run," Freeman said.
Freeman and his wife are looking forward to getting back to freshwater fishing after a decade-and-a-half hunting striped bass in the brackish waters of the Chesapeake Bay. He also bought more than 12 acres of land near his home in Ohio to get back to hunting, which he hasn't done since moving to D.C.
"Too many people there," Freeman said.
The IBEW officers, staff and members wish him a long, healthy and adventurous retirement.