The Electrical Worker online
May 2017

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
Kansas Members Help Vets,
Change a Red State's Mind About Unions

Jeff Thomson appreciates the importance of skilled workers on projects that provide affordable housing for people in need. That's why he was thrilled when members of Hutchinson, Kan., Local 661 volunteered to help renovate a duplex that will be home to two military veterans and their families.

"Electricity for this house would have broken me," said Thomson, a project coordinator for Interfaith Housing Services in Hutchinson, a town of about 42,000 residents in south-central Kansas. "It would have put me at least $10,000 over budget."

Thanks to the work of Local 661, that won't be the case.

"It made the difference in the house sitting there for another year and me trying to find money to pay for it instead of vets living in it in 2017," he added.

The duplex is expected to be occupied by this summer. Local 661 members have volunteered on community projects before, but this was the first time they had a chance to do so while using the skills they know best, Business Manager Nathan DeBerry said. That's actual electrical work.

"We make a pretty decent wage," DeBerry said. "We're brothers and sisters. We need to help each other out."

Added Local 661 president Gavin Taylor: "We had guys coming together for one cause, to help out the less fortunate."

The project has been big news in Hutchinson since last summer. A property owner of a nursery donated an old house he considered demolishing. Instead of tearing it down, he donated it to the nonprofit and paid to have it moved.

DeBerry saw what was happening. He and other local officials envisioned it providing plenty of opportunities. The most important was helping families in need, but it also allowed journeymen and apprentices to work on home construction.

Local 661 has been frozen out of the residential market for years because its signatory contractors say there is little money to be made, DeBerry said. They are working for ways to make it more affordable and successfully bid on home construction jobs, he said. The project provided members a chance to hone those skills.

"I thought it was an opportunity to give our apprentices a chance they might not normally get and to make us more competitive and give back to our community at the same time," DeBerry said.

Local 661 had a personal connection, too. Brothers Josh and Daniel Mansur are members. Daniel and wife Liz are U.S. Army veterans who served several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Liz is the co-owner with Molly Mansur, Josh's wife, of L&M Electric, a Local 661 signatory contractor based in Hutchinson.

L&M supplied the license to allow about 20 Local 661 members volunteer on the project. The Mansur brothers also worked on the project themselves.

"Anything we can do to show people in the community what the IBEW actually means, we want to be there," Josh said. "We have families and we want to do what we can to help people."

And finally, the project tells people in an area long known as antiunion that IBEW brothers and sisters are determined to make their communities better, DeBerry said. Kansas became a right-to-work state in 1958 and the law is part of the state's constitution. DeBerry and Taylor said the antiunion sentiment is even more pronounced in smaller towns like Hutchinson, which is about 35 miles from Wichita.

"If we go to a larger job around here, we're usually the only union craft," Taylor said.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the large GOP majorities in the Kansas Legislature have made it virtually impossible to enact any meaningful reform to aid working families in recent years.

"The public perception of unions in our jurisdiction is very poor," DeBerry said. "Most of it is very rural and our state bleeds red. We want to change the mindset of some people. We want to let them know all we're trying to do is help and give back to the community that gives us so much."

They've made a believer out of Thomson. He said Local 661's involvement from the outset and a grant from the Veterans Administration encouraged other groups to volunteer for the project.

"I'm sorry I didn't meet him sooner," he said. "He comes at everything with the right attitude and the vigor that it needs. He's been great to work with."


Volunteers from Hutchinson, Kan., Local 661 take a break from wiring homes for veterans in need.

Boston Local Hosts Second Annual
Girls in Trades Conference

Continuing a new tradition, Boston Local 103 hosted more than 350 girls from eastern Massachusetts area high schools on March 2 for a conference and career fair to encourage their interest in the skilled trades.

The conference was sponsored by Massachusetts Girls in Trades, an organization dedicated to establishing a pipeline for school-aged girls to enter the union skilled trades.

More than 3,000 young women in high schools across Massachusetts are enrolled in construction trades programs, said Maryanne Ham, administrator at Minuteman High and a founding board member of Girls in Trades.

Yet many seem to face barriers upon graduation. In 2015, tradeswomen accounted for just over 6 percent of apprentices in the Bay State, according to the Boston Globe. Nationally, it's less than 3 percent.

Some of these barriers include sexual harassment, gendered perceptions of women's capabilities and lack of mentors, according to a study by the National Women's Law Center. It found that women leave apprenticeships at higher rates than men, citing problems like hostile work environments and lack of child care. The study also stated that, while women have made great strides in other traditionally male-dominated fields like medicine and law, construction remains lopsided.

"A great place to start helping these women remove these barriers is within the union trades. There is a large membership with access to tradeswomen who can act as mentors," Ham said.

The number of female apprentices in Massachusetts has grown from 4.2 percent to almost 7 percent, said Liz Skidmore, business representative and organizer for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters.

"We look forward to those women retiring in 30 years after a proud career of building Massachusetts with the protection of a full pension," Skidmore said.

Having more women in the trades can also help with the shortage of skilled construction workers. In addition to working with girls, the conference offered networking opportunities and a workshop for educators on apprenticeships and what teachers and counselors can do to encourage students to apply.

Additionally, said Ham, students at career and technical education schools have had opportunities to explore a variety of career pathways and find their passion early on.

"Our students have four years of trade experience and can do more in the field quicker than the average apprentice," Ham said. "I've wondered for years why the union construction trades have not expanded their outreach before and am grateful they are now. To me this seems like a win for all."

If the student feedback is any indication, these girls may indeed be the next generation of tradespeople.

"I'm not alone and many women are breaking gender roles," reported one student in an anonymous survey given at the end of the conference. Others said, "I learned that I have no limits in what I can do," and, "being nontraditional is different for everyone."

Many students also shared what they learned about unions, how they offer protection, benefits and apprenticeships — and that they can in fact join one.

A second conference was held on April 13 in western Massachusetts. Mark Kuenzel, training director for Springfield, Mass., Local 7 served on the steering committee and attended the Boston conference last year.

He said he frequently hears from female students planning to go to college and get a degree in electrical engineering. They say their parents want them to go, despite spending the last four years learning a trade that can get them into an apprenticeship — and a high-paying career without student loan debt.

"Not everyone is cut out for the trades, we all know that," Kuenzel said. "But it's a missed opportunity for a lot of girls."


Hundreds of high school-aged girls from the Boston area gathered at Boston Local 103's hall for the second year in a row to encourage young women to enter the trades.

Career Growth Through Higher Education

If you've ever thought about furthering your education, IBEW partner Excelsior College may have the online program for you.

On April 11, the nonprofit, fully accredited institution held a virtual "Open Admit Day" for IBEW members looking to discuss their higher education options. But IBEW Workforce Partnership Ambassador Stephanie Cietek is still available to members who missed that event and would like more information. She can help answer questions about available degree programs and how to apply.

"We see a lot of our members take advantage of Excelsior's programs," said International Representative Anna Jerry, who serves the IBEW's Utility Department. "Some people need degrees to make a move into management. Others just want to stay competitive in shifting job markets or to change careers altogether," she said. "Higher education, particularly when it's online and fits into a busy work schedule, can be a great backup plan for a lot of people."

Excelsior is unique in that it offers generous course credits for company-provided training programs and certifications, many of which are applicable to the institution's degree programs. "It's a nice benefit," Jerry said. "You've already done the work, so it helps not to have to pay for it a second time."

Excelsior offers degree programs in technology and engineering, business, nursing and more. A full listing can be found on

Those interested in more information should contact Cietek by email at or by phone at (518) 608-8165.

Denver Local 111 Float Lights Up St. Patrick's Day Parade

More than 1 million people came out for Denver's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade March 11.

The parade featured classic sights that would have been at home in any of the previous 54 runnings of the parade, including beauty queens waving from convertibles, local high school marching bands playing John Philip Sousa waltzes and kilted pipers playing Danny Boy. This being Colorado, there were also horse riders wearing green cowboy hats.

This year, the members of the Denver Local 111 Electrical Workers Minority Caucus wanted to bring something different to the parade. A float, but not just any float, one that would share the message about the work its utility members do every day keeping the lights on.

And they wanted a perch to fling candy to the children in the crowd.

So, they built a miniature three-phase electrical grid, complete with three poles, a transformer and power lines.

At the top of the poles — wearing the appropriate protective gear — were men and women with hooks on their boots, smiling and waving to the crowds.

"It was EWMC's idea, but our members jumped right on board as soon as we heard about it," said Cory Williams, an apprentice gas fitter at Excel, member of Local 111 and the Eighth District representative on the Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers advisory committee.

More than 20 people showed up to build the float, including many of the nearly 20 members of Local 111's RENEW/NextGen chapter.

The float made the local news and KYGO, a Denver country music station, called it the best float in the parade, Williams said.

In addition to the 10 five-gallon buckets of candy they gave out to the crowd, the dozens of IBEW members on the float and walking alongside it handed out hundreds of fliers explaining who the IBEW, the EWMC and RENEW/NextGen are.

"We wanted to get our name out to bring in new workers, but also to put a good light on what we do as linemen, groundmen and gas workers every day," Williams said. "Everybody pays their bill without understanding how their lights stay on and their houses stay warm. We want to change that."

There are currently five RENEW/NextGen chapters in the Eighth District, Williams said, with two more being formed now. He said he hopes the Eighth District will have at least 10.


Denver Local 111 members with the three-phase electrical grid for their float, complete with poles, transformer and power lines.