The Electrical Worker online
August 2019

From the Officers
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Replacing Stigma with Solidarity

I'd like to use this space this month to talk to you about an issue that hasn't always been the easiest to bring up: addiction.

Every one of us knows someone who's struggled with addiction, whether it's alcohol, tobacco or drugs, prescription or illegal. Sometimes we dance around the subject, but we know when it's there.

Our two nations — and the construction industry, especially — are in a crisis. Many prescription painkillers and their illicit sister-drugs are laying waste to families and communities, and the construction industry is far-and-away the hardest-hit.

Members of our trades are at higher risk of injury on the job. And when your paycheck depends on you being at work, it means sometimes you take a few extra Advil and work through the pain.

Unfortunately, it also means some turn to stronger prescription medicines. But doctors and drug companies aren't doing enough to warn folks about the dangers of some of these opioid-based painkillers. Some of these drugs can be used safely, but without the proper supervision, it's way too easy to develop a problem.

And that problem is killing people, including some of our own sisters and brothers.

As your president, there's no part of the job I take more seriously than keeping you safe. Usually that means fighting for tougher standards at OSHA or making sure that you're able to speak up on the job when a supervisor asks you to do something unsafe. But this opioid problem is harder to tackle.

So, I want to say that the IBEW is here for you. There is no shame in seeking help if you're suffering. Talk to your steward or business manager if you think you might have a problem. We want to help — to keep you safe.

It's why we're devoting resources to finding qualified treatment programs and working to make sure they're available in our health plans. We're working with North America's Building Trades Unions to address the opioid issue across the entire union construction industry. Some of our locals are developing trainings and programs that can be shared across our two countries, and we're encouraging every local to adopt an employee assistance plan for members and their families.

But most importantly, we're not going to be silent about the danger of opioid addiction any longer. Stigma and shame have kept people from seeking help for far too long, and at the IBEW, we're going to be leaders in replacing shame with solidarity.

I want each of you to learn the warning signs of addiction and then look out for them in your co-workers and in yourselves. We owe it to one another, because having each other's backs is what union brotherhood is all about.


Also: Cooper: Persistence Pays Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President