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November 2018

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Pennsylvania's Governor Delivering for the IBEW

Pennsylvania IBEW locals have received more than $2 million in state grant money to expand their training centers as a part of Gov. Tom Wolf's push to support apprenticeships.

Beaver Local 712 and Allentown Local 375 each received about $1 million through the state's Redevelopment Capital Assistance program, and Wolf announced a $30 million job training program at Pittsburgh Local 5's training center.

Wolf was elected four years ago with the backing and support of organized labor and this November he faces a union-busting business-owner in his bid for re-election.

"This is the way democracy is supposed to work," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "We are the majority, not the bankers and CEOs, and elected officials should support policies that help the many, not the few. Too many politicians forget that. Gov. Wolf hasn't."

Local 712 is hosting one of the largest union electrical construction projects in the nation. More than 1,000 IBEW members will be working full-tilt for years on the natural gas cracking plant being built by Shell along the Ohio River in Beaver, Pa.

Local 712 has only about 400 members.

Travelers will step up. It is one of the strengths of the union and benefits of membership that we can man the job, but there is still a need for more apprentices. It's in everyone's interest to train more of western Pennsylvania's young people in a trade that pays far better than the low-skill service jobs currently filling the classifieds. It is good for the citizens, good for the union, good for the employer and good for the state.

But Local 712's training center is too small, dated and too out-of-the-way for many of the young workers it is looking to attract. With $1 million from the state's Redevelopment Capital Assistance program, Local 712 plans to build a 20,000 square-foot training center in the heart of its jurisdiction, making apprenticeship more realistic for people who previously lived hours away.

"Building a new center is exactly the kind of project that needed financing but would have gotten only words," said Local 712 Business Manager Frank Telesz.

Now, Telesz says, they will be able to sustain apprenticeship classes nearly twice the size of only a few years ago.

"We used to be a one-county local. Now we are four counties and more than 100 miles to the edge of the jurisdiction," he said. "With this investment, we can broaden our pool of recruits and have a physical presence in half our counties."

For Local 375, the issue was not manning a single, massive job, but missing out on dozens of small ones. With nearly $1 million through the RCAP, Local 375 plan to expand training space and start a residential program this September.

The new training center will be nearly twice the size of the decades-old center it has been using. Funding came with the support not only of Wolf, but also from the chairman of the State Senate Appropriations Committee, Republican Pat Browne.

"Nothing is free, but I can't see the downside yet," said Business Manager Paul Anthony. "Getting the right people in office is good, but it's not just about party. They have to support our mission and values, and when they do, we need to come out and support them."

RCAP is useful for capital expenditure, but Wolf and the Pennsylvania Legislature wanted to create a competitive grant program that would support ongoing workforce training. Wolf introduced the PASmart initiative in July at Pittsburgh Local 5's training center.

PASmart will invest $20 million to expand STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education, $3 million to increase industry partnerships and $7 million to support apprenticeships.

"Apprenticeships transform lives," said Wolf. "With apprenticeships, people can provide for their families by earning a good living and learning a skill. We need more apprentices to enhance our well-educated and talented workforce and attract more industry to Pennsylvania."

Wolf's opponent in November is the CEO of a nonunion trash company and one of the state's highest-profile proponents of right-to-work laws.

Former state Sen. Scott Wagner even compared the state's labor movement to ruthless dictators like Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin from the floor of the Legislature.

When initially asked to apologize to union members, he told them to "grow up."

"We have good news to celebrate and an easy decision in the fall," Stephenson said. "If you want politicians to support policies that help working families, then working families need to support politicians when they do right by us."


Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announcing expanded state support for apprenticeships at the Pittsburgh Local 5 apprenticeship training center in July.

Verizon Deal Extension Avoids
Another Painful Work Stoppage

This year, there was no repeat of contentious contract negotiations with Verizon.

The IBEW, along with the Communications Workers of America, reached an agreement with the company to extend the current collective bargaining agreement another four years until June 2022. Members approved the deal on Aug. 17.

The last two contract negotiations with Verizon led to work stoppages, including a 49-day strike in 2016 in which then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez intervened and helped both sides reach an agreement.

That appeared to be a turning point. New Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg officially took over on Aug. 1 of this year. The company showed more respect for the IBEW's and CWA's requests in these negotiations and agreed to narrow the focus to wages, benefits and for how long the contract would be extended.

"We wanted to give the membership a break," said Boston Local 2222 Business Manager Myles Calvey, who also is chairman of IBEW System Council T-6 and a member of the International Executive Council. "They've been through two strikes and done everything we've asked of them. This is the right message to send."

The new agreement covers more than 34,000 workers, including about 10,000 IBEW members, and calls for an 11.1 percent wage increase over the life of the deal. That increase will more than offset a rise in health insurance costs, Syracuse, N.Y., Local 2213 Business Manager Barbara Carson said.

That security is huge for Local 2213 members, many of whom work in Verizon call centers and were concerned that more of their jobs were going to be sent overseas.

"This 4-year agreement buys our people peace of mind," said Carson, who represents about 400 members covered by the new contract. "People who thought they might be on the chopping block are safe for the next 4 to 5 years."

East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 Business Manager Robert Speer, whose membership includes about 4,000 Verizon employees covered by the agreement, said it will allow the company to continue plans to expand its highly-regarded Fios network.

Fios is a bundled Internet, telephone and television service that operates over a fiber-optic network and is used by 5 million customers in nine states. It has received positive reviews, but Verizon has been criticized for not rolling it out quickly enough in many areas.

But Speer said that is changing in New Jersey, where the work to build out Fios is being done by technicians who are Local 827 members. The expansion will provide more security for everyone covered by the agreement, he said.

"I want them to continue to build that out here in the state of New Jersey so all of our members have the ability to retire," Speer said. "This is not only the new product, but it's the best product out there. I really do believe that, and I believe consumers will notice."


IBEW and CWA members avoided another strike against Verizon when they approved a 4-year extension of the current agreement.

Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr user IronMike9

California Members' Push
Last-Ditch Wildfire Bill Across the Line

Firefighters across California this summer battled dozens of wildfires as the state dealt with one of its worst — and costliest — wildfire seasons ever.

As the fires burned, a focused lobbying effort by all of California's IBEW locals saw Golden State lawmakers burn the midnight oil in Sacramento on the Friday before Labor Day, as they worked out a last-minute wildfire liability measure that helps to mitigate the financial fallout from last year's similarly catastrophic blazes.

Sent to Gov. Jerry Brown with about an hour to spare before the state's legislative session officially ended at midnight on August 31, SB 901 "is not a perfect bill," said Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell, "but it is significant, and we believe that it will provide financial stability to PG&E, to its ratepayers, and to the more than 10,000 IBEW members who work for it in some capacity."

Brown signed the bill into law on Sept. 21.

Over the last several years, wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres throughout California, killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of homes in the process. And because of a provision of California law known as "inverse condemnation," Pacific Gas & Electric was found liable for billions of dollars in damages caused by several of 2017's fires. Inverse condemnation makes utilities like PG&E liable for wildfire damages if the utility's equipment is found to have been involved in the fire in any way, regardless of whether the utility was found to be negligent.

SB 901 does not repeal inverse condemnation, but one of its provisions allows PG&E to seek ways to recoup financial losses stemming from the 2017 wildfires — including, as a last resort, a special charge to customers' utility bills, a line item that could remain in place for up to 20 years.

"This is about protecting ratepayers, not helping utilities," said Sen. Bill Dodd, one of the chief backers of SB 901. "The fact of the matter is ratepayers would be hurt in a utility bankruptcy."

Without the chance to recover financially, Dalzell said, PG&E and utilities like it would face certain fiscal ruin. "And when a company in California goes bankrupt, its workers typically bear the brunt of the pain," he said. Federal bankruptcy law allows companies in serious debt to crack open and gut collective-bargaining agreements, he noted, provided the company can make the case that it cannot survive without doing so.

"A bankruptcy judge could empower PG&E to sweep away the gains that took us years or even decades to negotiate," Dalzell said.

SB 901 also provides for solid job, worker and pension protections should a utility ever be sold, change hands or go bankrupt, but Dalzell noted that the Legislature didn't simply hand over those protections.

"We have been working for months on legislation to address the ongoing impacts of the wildfire crisis here in California," he said.

An intensive union-led lobbying effort culminated on August 27, when more than 100 men and women representing the Coalition of California Utility Employees visited every legislator's office in the state Capitol. The coalition counts a number of trade union locals as members, including Dalzell's Local 1245, along with Los Angeles Local 18, Diamond Bar Local 47, and San Diego Local 465.

Another of the bill's provisions requires PG&E and other utilities to toughen their systems and infrastructure, something that should both protect communities and provide IBEW members with new work for years to come, Dalzell said. It also allocates $200 million a year for a variety of wildfire-prevention measures.

"The bill gives near-term relief," he said, "but it leaves unanswered several questions that will have to be addressed in future legislative sessions."

So far in 2018, wildfires have burned more than 1.3 million acres in California. The causes of many of this year's fires have yet to be determined.


PG&E crews repair power lines damaged by the 2017 Tubbs Fire near Santa Rosa, Calif.

Credit: IBEW Local 1245/John Storey