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September 2018

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Carolyn Williams

Carolyn Williams, whose IBEW journey began in the granite underbelly of Atlanta as the city carved its subway system, retired in July from her role as director of the Civic and Community Engagement Department.

A role model for a generation of women in the trades and union leadership, Williams was one of the first women to complete Atlanta Local 613's apprenticeship program as a journeyman inside wireman. Later, she became the local's first woman and person of color to serve as an assistant business manager.

Hiring Williams, says her former boss, was one of the best decisions he ever made.

"She made an impression from the beginning when she applied to be an apprentice," retired Local 613 Business Manager Lonnie Plott said. "Her demeanor, her intelligence, her ability to get along with people, her respect within the union and from employers, the business community, politicians — she's the total package."

Born and raised in Atlanta, Williams graduated from Spelman College in 1978 with a degree in psychology. She was headed reluctantly toward graduate school when she had a chance encounter with two young electricians.

"They asked me about my plans," she said. "I told them, 'I just know I want to go to work. I don't want to sit down.'"

Fresh out of Local 613 apprenticeships, the men said they'd graduated in the same class as the program's first woman. They asked Williams if she liked math. She did.

Her mother grumbled about money "wasted" on her college education while her father beamed at the idea of his daughter being an "electrical engineer" — not quite, she told him.

"There was some self-doubt — this was a man's world," she said, thinking back to the day she walked into Local 613's offices. "It was scary, but it helped knowing the first woman had already come through."

She was hired as a summer helper, assigned to a crew that plunged deep underground twice a day to manage power lines for miners blowing open future train tunnels.

Williams was laid off after four days — along with others, she thought — and sent to a construction site at the city's airport. She learned the truth when she started her apprenticeship that September.

"That job you worked on — that was a mock layoff. Everybody else but you came back to work on Monday," a union brother told her, explaining that a project supervisor had visited the site, seen Williams and ordered her gone.

His attitude turned out to be more exception than rule, Williams said, as her career advanced. As a third-year apprentice, she was sent to an AT&T building site where, unbeknownst to her, a superintendent laid down the law the day before she arrived. She heard the story at the man's funeral a decade later:

"Mr. Honea came down to the job and said, 'Fellows, these pictures on the wall' — girlie pictures from magazines — 'I want them taken down. I've got a female coming tomorrow and I don't want her to have any problems.'"

Williams rose to be a job foreman, winning respect then and throughout her career with composure and dignity.

"She's a Jedi master," said Ann Peek of Toledo, Ohio, Local 8, who first heard her speak at an IBEW women's conference and agreed, at Williams' urging, to represent the Fourth District on the International Women's Committee.

"She has this aura around her," Peek said. "You see people who need to raise their voice. She never has to raise her voice. She's very calm, but also very commanding, very powerful when she speaks. She's the strongest person I've ever known."

Williams joined Local 613's staff after Plott was elected business manager in 1996. Committed to hiring an African-American, he said only one construction local in the Deep South at the time had a black assistant business manager. He wondered if it was too soon to choose a black woman.

"I felt like it would have been easier to bring an African-American male on first," Plott said. "I evaluated, and I finally said, 'Carolyn's the most qualified. I'm kidding myself trying to find somebody else.'

"In six months' time, she had gained the total respect and admiration of every business manager in the district."

Williams stretched her job description to include virtually anything — a new approach to member orientation, streamlining the dispatch process, taking charge of the newsletter and website, building labor and community coalitions and much more.

She'd been on staff a year when Georgia's governor asked her to join the board of the state's new transportation authority, the only member chosen from labor and the trades. "She brought a lot of prestige to the local," Plott said.

In 2002, the year after Plott was elected to the International Executive Council, he got a call from International President Ed Hill. "He said, 'Lonnie, I want to a put a woman in the construction department and everybody tells me you've got the best.'"

Williams handled agreement approvals as an international representative in the Construction and Maintenance Department until 2006, when Hill promoted her to director of what is now the Civic and Community Engagement Department.

Building on the IBEW's commitment to diversity, she created and strengthened programs and activities for women, minorities and younger members. Her efforts raised awareness throughout the union about civil and human rights issues, inspiring activism and community service.

Her persistence over the years led International President Lonnie R. Stephenson to establish the International Women's Committee and to preside over a resolution at the 2016 convention urging locals to launch their own. It passed unanimously.

With trademark humility, Williams says she's proud of her role in the emerging committees and the now-biennial international women's conference, both of which "are helping leadership understand what women bring to the table and how they support the IBEW and the work of the labor movement."

Her influence and contributions made a mark far beyond the IBEW. As director, she served on the boards of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the A. Philip Randolph Institute and chaired the NABTU's Committee on Women in the Trades, persuading them to establish an annual tradeswomen's conference.

Williams is returning to Atlanta after 16 years of making weekend trips home. When she moved to Washington, her husband, retired NFL linebacker Joel Williams, stayed in Atlanta to care for their aging parents.

She's misty-eyed about leaving her job and Washington-area friends but looking forward to having time to support the work of Local 613 and other labor and pro-worker political campaigns in her hometown. A body builder since college, she also plans to lift weights again on a regular basis.

The IBEW family thanks Sister Williams for decades of outstanding service and dedication to our union and wishes her a long and happy retirement.


Carolyn Williams

David Salazar

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson has appointed David Salazar director of the Support Services Department, effective Aug. 1.

Support Services brings together purchasing, order management, supply services, mail and document management for the International, district and local offices and protects the IBEW's trademarks, particularly the Brotherhood's logo. Salazar was appointed to replace Will Paul, who retired.

"Our support services team runs a great program, and I don't want that to change," Stephenson said. "David has been a key part of that for many years, and he's the right choice to ensure continued success for our members and staff."

Brother Salazar began at the IBEW in 1995 when he was hired as temporary data entry clerk. He was working as a contract system operator in Maryland for a county government when his employer lost the contract. The new contractor bid far less for the work and offered Salazar his job back with a massive pay and benefits cut. He'd just bought a house, and when a family friend suggested that the IBEW had an opening, he jumped at the opportunity. Salazar has been at the IBEW, and rising, ever since.

Salazar is a third-generation union member. His grandfather was a rodman with the Iron Workers and his father, also David, was a member of the Carpenters.

"My dad always said I was being raised on union money. That always meant something," Salazar said. "He wanted me in a union, but not banging nails. He wanted something better."

As an employee of the IBEW, Salazar was a member of OPEIU Local 2. He was selected three times to serve on the negotiating committee. Since he was appointed a supervisor in 2007, Salazar has no longer been a member of the bargaining unit but, he said, he has continued paying his dues and will continue doing so as director.

"Because I know where I came from," he said.

Under his leadership, Salazar said he hopes more locals will take advantage of his department's offerings.

"We do a lot more than just sell T-shirts off the web site," he said. "We are here to support the locals doing their work, to grow the union and change people's lives the way my family's life was changed by getting a union job."

On behalf of the entire membership and staff, the IBEW wishes Brother Salazar great success in his new position.


David Salazar

Jan Schwingshakl

International Representative Jan Schwingshakl retired, effective Aug. 1. From 2013, she worked as a regional trainer based out of the International Office in Washington, D.C., to oversee the education and development of IBEW members in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

A native of Milwaukee, Schwingshakl began her career in 1975 with Wisconsin Electric Power Company, now known as We-Energies, as an accounting analyst in the company's finance department, where she joined the local division of the independent United Association of Office, Sales and Technical Employees union. Although Schwingshakl managed to survive the electric utility's 1993 downsizing, almost half of the local's members were not as fortunate. Those who remained voted to merge with the IBEW's Waukesha, Wis., Local 2150 a year later.

From the start, Schwingshakl had been active in developing and providing training programs for new members and stewards, and she continued to do so with Local 2150. She also served as an IBEW representative on a team that worked on a proposed merger of Wisconsin Electric and Northern States Power (now Xcel Energy), and in 2000, she developed and maintained Local 2150's first website.

"The better trained our members are — the more they understand about how their union benefits them, their employer and their communities — the better we are able to fend off baseless attacks and create more activists," she said. "That creates a stronger IBEW for workers and their families."

In 1998, Schwingshakl was appointed by then-Business Manager Timm Driscoll to be Local 2150's coordinator for education, research, and training.

She also served on the local's organizing and human rights committees, and in 2000, she was appointed to serve as central registrar, helping to extend the role of education into the political and legislative process.

In addition to her considerable work with Local 2150, Schwingshakl served on the Wisconsin chapter of the AFL-CIO's state election coalition and education committee. She also found time to serve on the faculty advisory committee for the University of Wisconsin's School for Workers, and on the Laborfest and Union Label committees with the Milwaukee County Labor Council's.

"Without the knowledge of what your rights are in the workplace, you're pretty much at the mercy of the employer," she said. "And you can be sure they know what their own rights are."

In 2003, then-International President Edwin Hill appointed Schwingshakl to be an international representative and assigned her to head the education side of what was then known as the Education and Research Department. There, she developed and facilitated training programs in organizing and strategic campaigns. Three years later, when Hill split the department into separate units for education and research, Schwingshakl remained in charge of the Education Department, developing and implementing new training programs addressing membership development and political organizing.

"One of our first really big projects was the creation of the two-week long business manager training, still in use today," she said.

In 2013, Schwingshakl returned to her first love — hands-on classroom training — and became a regional trainer. "There's nothing more gratifying than standing up in front of a class and seeing light bulbs go on," she said. "That's the best part, when you realize you made a difference, and someone got it."

A member of the United Association of Labor Educators, Schwingshakl continued her education by taking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at Upper Iowa University, and at the National Labor College.

Although work travel has somewhat dominated Schwingshakl's life for the last five years, in retirement she plans to take on some pleasure travel, as well as spend time with her family and focus on getting healthier. "It's hard to eat healthy when you're on the road for work," she said with a laugh.

The Brotherhood wishes Sister Schwingshakl a restful, well-deserved retirement.


Jan Schwingshakl

Patricia Cote

Retired International Representative Patricia Cote, a longtime leader in the telecommunications branch, died on June 9 in Easton, Mass., following a brief illness. She was 76.

"She was very dedicated and respected," said Broadcasting and Telecommunications Director Martha Pultar, who first met Cote in 1988. "Pat came along at a time when there were not a lot of women in leadership positions. She was always someone that I looked to for advice.

"She was passionate about the IBEW and was very outspoken about that to our membership. When someone speaks to you from the heart, you tend to listen."

Sister Cote was born in Eldorado, Ill., but moved with her family to Manchester, N.H., as a child and later attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

By 1969, she was employed in New England Telephone's accounting division and joined an organizing committee looking to join the IBEW. The effort succeeded and Cote became a member of Boston Local 2307 in September 1970.

Two years later, Local 2307 was amalgamated into Boston Local 2222 and Cote was named an assistant business manager. She also served on the policy committee during the IBEW's first national negotiations with AT&T in 1974 and on System Council T-6's arbitration committee.

She was appointed international representative in 1976, first working for the organizing department, primarily in the South. She was assigned to the Second District staff in 1987 — which included her home local — and remained there until her retirement in 2005.

Local 2222 Business Manager and International Executive Council member Myles Calvey said Cote "had this ingrained generosity to help people.

"I know it was tough for her being the only woman in the room a lot of times, but I've got to tell you, I don't think she had any enemies," Calvey said. "That's the type of person she was. Even in tough situations, she could get people to do great things because she just had a heart of gold."

Linda Harrison first met Cote when she was hired as a Local 2222 business agent in 1988. Harrison said she and several other staffers had no experience working in a local union office. Cote took her under her wing and the two remained close friends until her death.

Harrison said Cote shared many harrowing stories about the pitfalls of being a woman organizer in the Deep South, an area not known for being friendly to unions. That showed a degree of mental toughness few others could match, she said.

"She was a strong, confident woman," Harrison said. "You know what I learned from her? Not to let people treat you as some girl who doesn't know anything and how to be a representative of the union and make sure [companies] treated you with respect."

One way to do that, Cote taught her, was to never stumble when asked about the details of a contract, or to even have to stop and look it up. Harrison took her advice and would memorize every agreement involving Local 2222.

"People respected her and they feared her," Harrison said. "She knew her stuff."

That wasn't all she was known for. Both Calvey and Harrison said Cote's extra effort to help members throughout the Second District was legendary. She was constantly making calls to make sure a member was being supported while going through a difficult time. She refused any attempts to be recognized for it, they said.

Harrison said Cote continued to try to do that even in retirement, often checking in with the Local 2222 office and old friends.

"I just always admired her," Harrison said. "She was so fun to be with. We always traded stories and mostly, she was just a good listener."

Cote listed "beach-bumming" as one of her favorite hobbies and she split her time between Easton and visits to Florida.

"I'll always remember her telling me, 'You can really take care of people and be nice at the same time," Calvey said. "Those were words to live by. She was just tremendous."

The IBEW's officers and staff send their condolences to Sister Cote's family and many friends during this difficult time.


Patricia Cote

Bonnie G. Crawford

Bonnie G. Crawford, who served manufacturing locals as an international representative in the South before retiring 20 years ago, died May 26 at age 84.

"He was dedicated to the Brotherhood," said Nathan Edgar, also a retired representative from the region that is now the Tenth District, formerly the Twelfth District. "That was the kind of man he was. He believed in his job and he believed in the work we were doing."

Crawford was involved in IBEW's organizing drive in the 1950s at Gould National Battery in Tennessee, where he worked after serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.

In 1957, he was initiated into Memphis Local 1227, which no longer exists, and joined its executive board two years later. He was elected local president in 1967, a position he held until coming aboard the international staff in 1986.

Crawford retired in 1998, freeing him to spend time fishing and hunting. He was an active member of the Germantown Church of Christ in the Memphis area and had been married to his wife, Betty, also known as Nell, for 59 years. In addition to Betty, he is survived by three children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and five brothers and sisters.

While most of Crawford's colleagues from his era are gone, Edgar said, they held him in high regard. "He always did his best for the Brotherhood," he said.

The IBEW family extends its deepest sympathy to Brother Crawford's family and friends.


Bonnie G. Crawford