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October 2017

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#Success: How to Make it as a Signatory Contractor

Mike Duncan isn't the only contractor providing high-quality craftsmanship in New Brunswick, but he might be the only one who gets his crew together every Friday for a group photo for the company Instagram account.

"It's a fun way to collaborate and take a break, especially at the end of a long week," Duncan said. "And it gets people's attention. You never know where your next customer will come from."

Embracing new ideas and camaraderie are at the heart of Duncan's Electrical, the four-year-old business started by the former member of Saint John, New Brunswick, Local 502.

Duncan enjoyed the work he was doing in the industrial sector, but after a few years he wanted something different. So he started his own company, focusing mostly on smaller commercial, retail and high-end residential work.

"The one thing I always look back to and remember is that feeling of putting my coat and my hard hat on the same hook in the same lunch trailer for years and years, it didn't sit well with me," he told local publication Huddle.

Local 502 has supported him along the way.

"Starting a business takes a lot of work and we want them to be successful," said Local 502 President David Stephen. "We want them to know that the union is here to help, that we're all in this together."

Local 502 helps Duncan, and other members-turned-contractors, by offering tools and space in its training center, resources new businesses might not have access to. The local also started "ConnectNB," a website that pairs customers with union contractors.

The jobs are posted for everyone, but the smaller ones — like renovating a restaurant — are mostly passed over by larger companies.

"Mike really took advantage of it," said Business Manager Jean Marc Ringuette. "And he took it a step further by building relationships and really making a name for himself in the arts community."

Duncan, who usually employs between four and eight IBEW members, has worked all around Saint John, primarily on renovations and community projects, allowing Duncan and his crew to establish themselves as not just skilled craftspeople but creative collaborators.

"The job definitely allows for creativity," said employee and Local 502 member Mike McNamee. "We work with a lot of folks who know what they want, but not how to get it. They know food and whiskey, not wiring. That's where we come in."

Whether it's bending conduit to make sure it's hidden in the corner or finding the perfect exit sign, they make sure every part is done right. It's an aspect of the job that often goes unnoticed.

Duncan's creativity is also apparent in his approach to social media.

With few contractors on Instagram, Duncan says the platform allows his brand to stand out. Images of beautiful lighting fixtures are posted alongside videos of the crew dancing onstage at a local theater and running a contest for a new company shirt and tagline (the winner, chosen by Instagram users: "switches be trippin'").

"They're always posting fun things and it's been an effective, if unconventional, way to get their name out," said Ross Galbraith, business manager of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 and Eighth District International Executive Council member.

Duncan says he's used the Instagram photos when pitching clients and has promoted the businesses on social media, a gesture that goes a long way in a small community.

"We're competing against older, more well-known companies a lot of the time," Duncan said. "With social media we can show who we are and that we come with fresh ideas."

By helping members like Duncan, the local gets more small signatory contractors and the members get the support they need to stay competitive.

Duncan credits the IBEW for not just teaching him electrical work, but how to communicate effectively and lead a team. Whether it was taking foreman roles or speaking up at a meeting, they helped him develop into a leader, he said.

"It gave me a good base," Duncan said. "You don't always get opportunities like that outside of a union."


Titled "Men on Coral," Duncan posted the photo above on social media for a contest run by a local business he works with — and won.

Powerhouse IBEW Charity Helps Tenn. Kids
Stock up for School

When Memphis-area students returned to school this year, many were sporting new backpacks full of supplies, thanks to Memphis, Tenn., Local 1288.

The backpack giveaway is something the local has been doing since 2014, says Business Manager Rick Thompson. It's sponsored by the local's nonprofit organization, the IBEW-Jonnie Dawson Charitable Foundation.

"It's our motto, and we truly believe it, that helping the community is everybody's responsibility," Thompson said.

Two hundred backpacks filled with school staples like pencil boxes, binders and notebooks were given to students attending pre-kindergarten through third grade in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, on Aug. 5 at the union hall.

"These are the most impressionable years of school life, that's why we focus on these grades," Thompson said. "We want to impress upon them that we care for them, that their community cares for them."

Members have the option of donating to the Jonnie Dawson Foundation through a payroll deduction, an option that was negotiated with Memphis Light, Gas and Water, the utility that employs Local 1288 members. Roughly 750 of the 1,450 members participate. Since the foundation's beginning in 2009, it has raised almost $1 million to assist the community, Thompson said.

"As IBEW members, we believe in supporting our communities and helping everyone live with dignity," said Tenth District Vice President Brent Hall. "What Local 1288 is doing is an excellent example of living up to that principle."

Named for former assistant business manager Jonnie Dawson, the eponymous organization donates over $140,000 to local charities each year. A frequent recipient is Community Services Agency, which provides financial assistance to those unable to pay their utility bill. Other beneficiaries include organizations working with domestic violence survivors, transplant patients and the homeless.

This year, Local 1288 began planning and construction of an education complex that will offer job training to the community. Classes will cover subjects including GED training and keyboarding as well as plumbing, welding and accounting.

"Participating in these projects helps the recipients, but it also helps the volunteers and donors," Thompson said. "It's a reminder that it only takes a little time to do a lot of good."


Memphis, Tenn., Local 1288 Business Manager Rick Thompson talks with attendees of the local's back-to-school backpack giveaway, one of many charitable events the local hosts throughout the year.

IBEW Telecom Grads: 'At the Forefront of Industry Change'

Katie Fasting figured out when she was 4 years old that her mother had a college degree and her father didn't.

"Dad, where is yours?" she said. "Why don't you have one yet?"

"That's one of those things that started me thinking," said Chris Fasting, member of Tampa, Fla., Local 824. "I thought going back to college would give her the incentive to go to school and study hard and get good grades.

"This was also when a lot of technological change was coming to our industry. The adapt-or-die mentality started kicking in," he said.

Fasting returned to school five years ago as part of the National Coalition for Telecommunications Education Learning program. Offered through Pace University in New York, the online only curriculum allows IBEW members working in the telecommunications industry a chance to earn an associate, bachelor's or master's degree without interrupting their careers.

Fasting was one of 11 IBEW members to earn diplomas this year and he did so in impressive fashion, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in applied information technology.

He credits his wife Lisa for taking on additional responsibilities despite having a full-time job of her own, allowing him more time to concentrate on academics. The couple has two daughters, including Katie, who is now 9.

"At one point, the thought became that if I'm going to do this, I might as well as commit to it 100 percent," said Fasting, who works as a cable splicer for Frontier Communications.

Fasting wanted to keep pace with the rapid change in the industry and transition into a less taxing form of work as he progresses in his career instead of digging holes and running cable.

"I want to be at the forefront in the changes in telecommunications," he said.

Fasting is a second-generation IBEW member, following his father Fred into the trade. He started nearly 20 years ago working for GTE, serving as Local 824 vice president, business representative and assistant business manager.

Robert Prunn, a former Local 824 business manager who is now an international representative in the broadcasting and telecommunications department, said he's known Chris for 20 years.

"He was immediately interested in helping his union brothers and sisters," said Prunn, who now is the co-chairman of NACTEL's board of directors.

Other IBEW members earning bachelor's degrees through
NACTEL were:

  • Patrick Ian Harrison, Davenport, Iowa, Local 825.
  • Kathleen Hozak, East Windsor, N.J., Local 827.
  • Mark Murphy and Terry Laurence, Middleton, Mass., Local 2321.

Members earning associate degrees were:

  • LaShawn D'Andrea Miller, Chicago Local 21.
  • David Done, Lakewood, N.J., Local 128.
  • Sean Patrick, Emilio Jesus Leonard,
    Sanan Gomes, East Windsor, N.J., Local 827.
  • Philip Brown, Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547.

Founded in 1999, NACTEL is a coalition of four of the nation's leading telecommunications companies — AT&T, Verizon, Frontier and CenturyLink — along with the IBEW and Communications Workers of America. Employer-provided tuition assistance usually is available.

"This is a board and an organization that no matter what is going on between the IBEW and the employers, it doesn't come into that room when we meet," Prunn said. "This is about getting the best courses and best curriculum we can for the employees and members."


Tampa, Fla., Local 824 member Chris Fasting earned a bachelor's degree from Pace through NACTEL.

Preserving IBEW Voices for Posterity

New York Local 3 member Harry Garcia remembers growing up in Electchester, a cooperative housing district in Queens established by the local in 1949.

"I'm a very proud, brown-skinned Puerto Rican man raised in a beautiful community and the community comes from an idea that somebody had a long time ago that working people deserve a better way," Garcia said. "I'm very proud when I tell people I come from a union and my father was in a union and … I will die knowing the greatness of that."

Maintenance electrician Bill Riley Sr. said it wasn't standard practice, but he remembers he and his fellow splicers sharing work equally to ensure everyone had access to the higher paying night shifts.

"We didn't want animosity," Riley said. "We have a camaraderie."

Garcia and Riley are among those who shared their memories of life as a Local 3 member with Jaime Lopez for a project funded by the American Folklife Center, part of the Library of Congress.

"The stories of electricians, their lives and their contributions, often go unnoticed," said Lopez, an inside wireman. "Now we can share those stories, and what it means to be a Local 3 member, so the world can see what they're missing."

Lopez, along with fellow Local 3 member Paul Vance and faculty at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center, were awarded a fellowship that funds projects that document the occupational culture of everyday people in the contemporary U.S.

The team conducted audio interviews with 20 members of the 30,000-member local.

"You hear about CEOs and other executives all the time. Our experiences are just as important, but they're left out of the conversation," said Local 3 Business Manager Christopher Erikson.

Questions included what it means to be in a union, what their first day was like and what inspires them.

"That was my favorite question," Lopez said. "One person talked about how journeymen have to imagine where everything will go and how they'll install it before they begin, which is its own creative process."

Lopez and Vance are graduates of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies program; Local 3's apprenticeship requires apprentices to get an associate degree in labor studies. It was through Lopez's studies that he met his fellowship partners, artist Setare Arashloo and Barrie Cline.

The project, titled "Illuminating History," was submitted to the Library of Congress in July and will be available online in October.

"Going through this process makes you think a lot about what we contribute as a workforce and about the preservation of the union," said interviewee Kenneth Cohen.

It's that interest, and sense of solidarity, that Lopez and his team hope to foster, to show that each working person's story is both unique and universal.

"I am a fourth-generation member of Local 3. My sons are fifth-generation and my granddaughter may well be the sixth. The union is my life, just as it as for thousands of Local 3 families," Erikson said. "It's given us countless opportunities to realize our full potential and add to the mosaic of our collective success story and for that we are truly blessed. I am thrilled we have an opportunity to share it and encourage other locals to do the same."

The Illuminating History project is a digital audio archive deposited into the Library of Congress and made possible by the Archie Green Fellowship.


New York Local 3 member Jaime Lopez interviews fellow member Bill Riley for his project, "Illuminating History," funded by the American Folklife Center, part of the Library of Congress.

Hung Up on Fall Protection,
Japanese Utilities Call IBEW for a Lifeline

When Japanese utility executives came to the U.S. to learn about protecting their workers from falls, they came to the IBEW for advice.

Injuries and deaths from falls are a problem in the utility industry in Japan and regulations are changing to keep workers safer when working on power poles and transmission towers.

The U.S. utility industry worked through its own regulation shift three years ago, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration required an upgrade to the traditional body or safety belt that linemen had been using for decades.

"They could have approached anyone to talk about the safety improvements the U.S. has made. I think it is a great credit to the IBEW that they came to us," said IBEW Safety Department Director Dave Mullen. "We were founded on safety and that reputation has clearly spread around the world."

Before the regulation change in the U.S., required fall protection for utility workers was similar in Japan and the U.S. In fact, it would have been familiar to linemen from the earliest days of the Brotherhood: the body belt. The body, or safety, belt is made up of two loops, joined together: one goes around the lineman's waist, the other goes around the pole they are climbing.

But there has always been a problem with the body belt as fall protection, Mullen said.

"It just doesn't do a great job. It works fine to position a lineman for work, but protecting someone from falling or from getting hurt by a fall? It has problems," Mullen said.

Body belts can slip down a pole. Then, when the stop comes, it is all at once, a sudden jolt to a very vulnerable place: the lower back. The torso above the belt and the legs below continue accelerating after the belt stops moving. The deceleration can hyperextend or even break the spine. Even when workers have stopped climbing and are working, there is nothing to stop a lineman from losing balance to the side and rotating around the pole into a fall.

Since 2014, body belts have been banned by OSHA as a fall arrest system for electrical generation and distribution, and rules require both different harnesses — rock-climbing style ones that go around the waist and legs or full body harnesses that incorporate the torso as well — and more secure ways of attaching those harnesses so workers either can't fall or can't fall far.

Mullen spent the day with two executives from an industry group representing the country's utilities and a researcher for a Japanese manufacturer of industrial electrical equipment so they could see how the equipment, workers and utilities have adapted.

Mullen, with the help of Fourth District International Vice President Brian G. Malloy, arranged for a visit to Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative's technical center in Gainesville, Va.

They were met by Manassas, Va., Local 1737 Business Manager Eric Stewart and members Justin Bettis and Emmanuel "Manny" Marfo, who are both part of Novec's lineman rodeo team.

Bettis showed the executives how efficiently linemen use the more robust fall arrest systems while working on distribution poles.

Bettis even strapped one of them into a harness and sent him up a (short) pole of his own.

They also demonstrated the use of the full body harnesses, which Novec workers use primarily when working out of buckets.

The executives also requested a question-and-answer session with Mullen, who also brought in an OSHA representative and safety executives from Pepco Holdings, a subsidiary of Exelon.


Local 1737 member Justin Bettis, a linemen for Novec in Virginia, shows Yoshiaki Fuwa from the Japanese Federation of Electric Power Companies the advanced fall arrest systems in the U.S.