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February 2019

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Maryland Members Help Preserve a
Historic Railroad 'Station'

As I-68 curves through Cumberland, Md., the speed limit drops from 70 mph to 40, providing drivers an opportunity to glimpse a historic church that once served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

"It's a beautiful church, and definitely eye-catching, in the city or from the interstate," said Cumberland Local 307 Business Manager Rodney Rice, talking about the Emmanuel Parish of the Episcopal Church.

While the congregation itself dates back to the late 1700s, Emmanuel's current building has graced the city's skyline since 1851. And thanks to recent wiring and systems upgrades by Local 307 members working for signatory contractor Metz Electric, Emmanuel should stand on that Cumberland hilltop for many years to come.

Owner Robert Metz considered it an honor to work on the church. "When you live in a small town, you get recognized for your work," he said. "It has an exponential effect that spreads through the community and the region. It's home, not just where we work."

Emmanuel overlooks the Potomac River in the middle of Maryland's western panhandle. In 1756, what was once a modest trading post on that site became Fort Cumberland, a major British stronghold in the American Colonies. Able to support nearly 5,000 people, the fort was a key stronghold in the French and Indian War. Several tunnels were built beneath it, for food and gunpowder storage as well as for personnel to gain secure access to the fort's interior.

Eventually, the surrounding city of Cumberland outgrew its need for the fort, and in 1803, Emmanuel bought a part of the property from the government. Gradually, the fort itself was dismantled, although the tunnels remained.

Under the leadership of Rev. David Buel, the Gothic Revival structure and the tunnels it concealed became an important stop on the Underground Railroad, the network of covert routes used by anti-slavery allies to help enslaved African-American escape captivity from the southern states.

The Railroad was illegal and dangerous — recaptured slaves could be hanged — so few written records about it were kept, leaving much of its history to be passed down through storytelling.

Although Maryland remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War, it still permitted slavery for almost two full years after President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation officially ended the practice.

As the stories go, escaped slaves who made it to Cumberland would first hide in a shanty town downhill from the church. At night, Emmanuel's sexton would ring the church's bells in a coded way to signal that it was safe for fugitives to enter the tunnels. Later, Railroad guides would sneak escapees to freedom in Pennsylvania, about five miles north. The Civil War's end in 1865 also meant the end of the Railroad.

Emmanuel underwent a series of renovations in the following years. The congregation even paid one of America's premier glass artists, Louis Comfort Tiffany, in 1905 to redesign the church's interior. Stained-glass windows and other objects, crafted by Tiffany's artisans and others, were installed in the church over the next couple of decades.

The church also gradually installed modern conveniences such as electric lights, telephone lines, and security systems. Workers placed the various control panels inside the tunnels.

Recently, the alarm system began showing its age. The church's board members sought help from Metz and members of Local 307, who estimated that it had been decades since any major wiring work had been done.

"Their security kept failing and constantly false-alarming," he said. "Everything was old and needed replaced. It wasn't adequate for what they were trying to cover." The board also asked the contractor about installing a better fire alarm system, too.

While Metz's two-month project centered on the panels in the tunnels, he also worked in the church's sanctuary, its organ chamber, and even its steeple.

"We had real concerns going in," he said. For example, they had to figure out a way to preserve the church's historic infrastructure while fishing cables behind and through 150-year-old plaster walls.

The contractor felt well-equipped to handle it. "Being a small contractor in a small area, we end up doing some general contracting as well," Metz said. "Our goal was making it look like the wiring was there from the beginning."

The church's board was happy with the results, and Rice attributed that satisfaction to the advantage of working with a small contractor like Metz Electric. "Bob is one of our only contractors who does residential," he noted. "We'd like to have more like them."

"The threads of the IBEW are there," Metz said. "We have a good feeling knowing that the church will still be there, thanks to our work."

For information about the church and its tunnels:


Wiring upgrades by Cumberland, Md., Local 307 members will help protect the historic Emmanuel Parish of the Episcopal Church, which once served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

DOE Program Could Defray Medical Costs

For IBEW members employed by the U.S. Department of Energy and dealing with a work-related illness, there could be a new way to get help with your medical bills.

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program compensates current and former DOE employees who were diagnosed with illnesses if the diagnosis is a result of exposure at covered facilities. Covered illnesses include certain types of cancer, chronic beryllium disease, beryllium sensitivity and chronic silicosis.

Depending on the claim, recipients can receive upwards of $250,000 in compensation, and in some instances more.

"For our members, some who have worked for decades in these dangerous jobs, this could be an opportunity to regain at least some of what you've sacrificed over the years," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "These people deserve our country's gratitude for their service, and I'm hopeful that this program can be a positive start."

The program, a product of bipartisan legislation enacted in 2000, also covers contract employees and some surviving family members, including spouses and children of deceased workers, as well as those who worked on the construction of many of the facilities.

There are more than 400 DOE sites across the country, many of which employ IBEW members in various capacities.

While safety gear and protocols have improved over the years, workplace injuries and health impairments still occur, especially when the job involves dangerous chemicals that may not have been safely contained.

Richland, Wash., Local 984 member Mario Diaz said getting his claim approved took some time, about two years, but now the bills for his occupational asthma, including some pricey medications, are covered.

"It's a good program. We didn't really have anything before," said Diaz, who worked as a radiological technician at the Hanford nuclear site in eastern Washington.

Diaz, now retired due to his health, used to inspect tank farms for radiation leaks. On one particularly bad day, Diaz says he bent down to check something and a "sauna-like" blast of warm air hit him. He knew it wasn't good. His face turned a shade of red more commonly associated with cartoon characters, he said. He was hospitalized, but eventually returned to work.

But after a while, and a few more hospitalizations, he had to stop working. Diaz says he's lost about 20 percent of his lung capacity. The slightest scent can send him into a coughing fit. His memory has been impaired as well.

"My lungs are shot," Diaz said. "I'm pretty much locked in my house."

Diaz says union members should go to their health advocate if they're considering a claim.

"That was the biggest, best move we did," Diaz said. "They have a wealth of information and they're on your side."

Diaz says it's important to keep in touch with the people processing your claim, usually a claims examiner. And if you can find an occupational doctor, go there. They can be strong advocates and are familiar with the system.

"Some doctors may give you a hard time," Diaz said. "Find one who will work with you. You've got to stand your ground."

Information on how to file a claim can be found at In order to file a claim, an employee must have a diagnosis first. Applicants should also have their dates of employment and job location as well as any relevant medical records.

There are resource centers located around the U.S. to assist people with their claims. People can also get help by phone.

"The process can be confusing, but there's help out there," said Local 984 member Dianne Whitten, who works at the Hanford nuclear site. "I've seen this program help a lot of people."

In the event a claim is denied, you can reapply if there is new information or a new diagnosis, Whitten said. "Your claim never really closes."

Whitten, who has worked at Hanford for about 30 years and is also recording secretary for the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, says IBEW members who have questions can reach out to her at and (509) 943-4076.


For Department of Energy employees suffering from work-related illness, the Occupational Illness Compensation Program is a way to get help with medical expenses, and may even apply to family members.

Photo credit: Department of Energy via Flickr

IBEW Members Honored for House Fire Rescue

It is not every day that someone goes to work and returns home a hero, but for three members of Milwaukee Local 494, that's just what happened when they helped save two men and a baby from a house fire.

"These folks exercised some outstanding judgment," said Milwaukee Deputy Fire Chief Aaron Lipski at a ceremony to honor Local 494 members Brian Pape, Chris Rassette and Jack Schoeppe. "It is a huge, huge credit to these three individuals, and to Roman Electric and to the IBEW at large, that these three folks stepped up and did what they did."

The trio were at the office of signatory employer Roman Electric in March when they heard a man yelling for help at a nearby house. As smoke billowed out, they quickly ran over and Pape and Rassette helped the man and his 1-month-old daughter out of a window. Schoeppe used his truck's extension ladder to help another person escape from the second story.

Lipski thanked the men not just for their quick thinking and bravery that day, but also for their electrical expertise.

"Your good electrical work actually prevents probably more fires than we do," Lipski said. "You have absolutely no idea how serious I am when I say that. Thank you for what you do and thanks for being diligent and detail-oriented."

At the ceremony, held in June, attendees heard from Lipski, Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh, Alderman Michael Murphy and Roman Electric President Phil Rose, all there to honor the three members. Pape, Rassette and Schoeppe each received a plaque from the city with a proclamation recognizing their life-saving actions and a Local 494 challenge coin from Warsh.

The coins are given to members who have helped save lives at work or devoted their free time to worthwhile causes. Including Pape, Rassette and Schoeppe, 13 have been awarded to Local 494 members, Warsh said.

"It means a lot to see anybody do something courageous like that," Warsh said. "These days, many people would rather take out their phones and videotape something like this rather than jumping into action. This is the kind of courage that I hope everyone would demonstrate if faced with the same situation. We're all very proud of them."

The fire department arrived soon after Pape, Rassette and Schoeppe began helping the trapped occupants. After putting out the fire and getting everyone to safety, Lipski said he tried to find the members to thank them, but they were nowhere to be found. They had already gone back to work.

"Your modesty and your humility in all this is appreciated, but you need to understand that I've been doing this a long time and I'm looking at the three of you like you're superheroes right now," Lipski said. "What you did that day was absolutely fantastic; whether you believe it or not, that is the truth."


Milwaukee Local 494 Business Manager Dean Warsh spoke at an event to honor members Brian Pape, left, Jack Schoeppe and Chris Rassette who rescued three people, including an infant, from a house fire.

Photo credit: Milwaukee Local 494

Labour Standards Updates Aim to
Improve Canadian Workers' Lives

Canada's government announced changes to the country's federal labour standards Nov. 1, and advocates say they will improve working conditions for the thousands of Canadians who work in federally regulated industries.

"Better working conditions are good for business and benefit both workers and employers," said Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu, announcing the proposals at Toronto's George Brown College. "When economic growth is inclusive, and fewer Canadians are left behind, we are all better off."

Of particular interest to IBEW members is a proposed change to Canada's Wage Earner Protection Program, which would increase the amount of financial assistance workers can claim when they are owed money by employers who file for bankruptcy. If approved, the change would be retroactive to February 2018.

"The government plays a crucial role in protecting workers and leveling the employment playing field," said IBEW First District Vice President Tom Reid. "If implemented, the Trudeau administration's proposals should help advance our members' pursuit of high-quality, long-term jobs."

The majority of IBEW members in Canada are covered by provincial or territorial labour law, but workers in certain industries — including railroad employees, dockyard workers, telecom, and public-sector employees — work under the federal labor standards.

Hajdu said that a recent government survey helped the administration tailor specific proposals to the realities that these workers face. The proposals are part of a larger federal government spending bill that aims to implement the omnibus budget measure approved by Canada's Parliament in June.

The minister also announced some other worker-friendly proposals, such as updates to the Canada Labour Code that would allow employees to become eligible for more paid days off starting from their first day on the job.

Reid also applauded some of the proposals designed to address work-life balance. In addition to five recommended days of personal leave (with three days paid), the Trudeau administration is advocating 10 days of leave for victims of domestic violence (with five days paid).

"Missing a day of work — and losing out on a day's pay — could raise a red flag for someone in an abusive domestic relationship," Reid said. "Paid leave for victims of family violence will help those suffering to open a new bank account, find a new place to live, or get the help they need, all without losing pay and risking further domestic abuse."

Reid noted that many of the proposals are similar to Ontario's Bill 148, passed by that province's Liberal Party in late 2017. The party lost its majority to the anti-worker Progressive Conservatives, led by Doug Ford, last June.

"After only a few months on the job, the Ford administration is cruelly hacking away at some of our hard-won benefits victories under Ontario's previous government," Reid said. Ford's anti-worker Bill 47, for example, calls for reducing the number of paid leave days and gutting the province's rules regarding organizing, strikes, and apprenticeship training.

Reid encouraged IBEW members to ask their members of Parliament to support the changes to the federal labour code.


Labour Minister Patty Hajdu announcing new labour standards for Canadian workers.