The Electrical Worker online
May 2020

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
Journeyman Uses Life Story
in Appeal to U.S. House Panel

Witness John Harriel began his testimony on Capitol Hill in the middle of his harrowing life story of gangs, prison, reform and ultimately service.

"When I got out, I thanked God that the IBEW allowed someone like myself to join their union," the Los Angeles Local 11 journeyman wireman said, facing a U.S. House subcommittee.

Known to his friends and the countless people he's helped as "Big John," Harriel spoke at a Feb. 27 hearing about the steep challenges facing former prisoners when they're released.

He'd been invited by Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, who has long admired Harriel's work with the organization 2nd Call ( in her district.

Ex-offenders at high risk of returning to prison, or dying on the street, develop life skills and self-esteem through 2nd Call that lead many of them to building trades apprenticeships and careers.

"I've been able to get thousands of young men and women to pick up tape measures instead of guns," Harriel said as he talked about weekly classes he teaches, mentoring and other outreach and activism that has driven the second half of his life.

"This is why 2nd Call was formed; when a man puts down his gun and his flag, then what? I was over 25, from one of the hardest communities in the city. I had to get my GED. I had to go to a program. How do I deal with being in a community where suppression and violence was the norm?"

Through the "blessings of the IBEW," he said, "I started a pathway into the trades."

His apprenticeship led him to electrical contractor Morrow Meadows, and 22 years later he's still there, having spent the past four as a superintendent.

"They grew me as a man," Harriel said. "That family took me in and treated me as one of their own, made me feel like I was part of something greater. I took that back to my community."

He credits the Abundant Life Christian Church, too, which long ago embraced him. His pastor, John E. Tunstall, provides space for Harriel's 2nd Call classes for people newly released from prison and those who keep coming back for inspiration.

Committee members were riveted by Harriel's words. He described growing up in poverty and despair, with a drug-addicted mother in a neighborhood where gangs and gunshots were everyday life. School was "enemy territory."

"The teachers didn't know that I'd just got shot at, that I hadn't eaten in two days. What they were doing was just housing me," he said. "I ended up dropping out in 9th grade."

Street gang The Bloods were his family, dealing drugs his livelihood. It landed him in prison at age 18. Two years later, he was released with no life skills, no self-esteem, no hope. Soon he was behind bars again.

It turned out, he said, "to be the best thing that happened to me." At age 26, an IBEW journeyman who mentored prisoners took him under his wing, while a prison lifer taught him algebra.

The head start led him to Local 11 and his IBEW career, to a life as a family man and homeowner, a productive citizen. He wanted lawmakers to grasp that more than anything else — that preparation before release is the key to never going back.

"It was the power of a man showing me what manhood is," he said. "I knew that when I returned to society, I had the tools to produce and help build back the communities I once destroyed."

Of the many things that make him proud to be an IBEW member, he said a big one is knowing how much International President Lonnie R. Stephenson cares about people like him.

"Lonnie and I have had conversations and he is committed to diversity — he's not just said it, he's proven it," Harriel said. "He knows my work and he knows the difference that a second chance makes in someone's life."

Harriel still marvels at how a kid who grew up a gangster with a drug-addicted mother, who dodged bullets and nearly starved, became a man who started setting his alarm for 3 a.m. to take a series of buses to work, determined never to be late.

"I wish I could tell that young man that someday he'd sit on the executive board of IBEW Local 11 and sit as a trustee of the same union that I once thought was only for Caucasian men," he said in his prepared remarks. "More important, that he would change policies and provide career opportunities to hundreds of people that look like him and also help hundreds of others that don't."

His second chance means that "hands that were used to sell drugs are the same hands that have built hospitals, sporting complexes, train stations, power plants and water facilities,"

They are hands, he said, that will never stop guiding people toward new lives, keeping families together and benefiting society at large.

But he stressed that he and 2nd Call can't do it alone: leadership and funding are essential.

"I am asking you to help me transition people that may not have had the same opportunities others might have had growing up," he told the committee. "My accomplishments show what hard work and assistance can do."


Los Angeles Local 11 member John Harriel tells a U.S. House subcommittee how the IBEW set him on a life-changing path after spending his young adult years in prison, and how he has used his second chance to help thousands of former inmates like him.

Oregon Locals Provide
New Pregnancy Benefits for Members

Pregnant IBEW members in Oregon now have more options when it comes time to plan their families.

Portland, Ore., Local 48, working with the National Electrical Contractors Association and Harrison Trust, added a new maternity leave benefit for its members, as well as those of three other locals in the state. The benefit allows for six months of paid leave, with 13 weeks being available prior to the expected due date and 13 more available after.

It's available to any pregnant member of Local 48, Salem Local 280, Medford Local 659 and Coos Bay Local 932. Members will receive $800 per week in time loss benefits.

"I want choices available to our members," said Local 48 Business Manager Garth Bachman. "This benefit allows people to make decisions about pregnancy without worrying about going broke or losing health insurance."

Modeled on a similar benefit offered by the Ironworkers, Bachman says theirs, which went into effect on Jan. 1, goes one step further by not requiring any disability requirements, like doctor-mandated bed rest, in order to qualify. Any pregnant member who wants to access this can do so.

The Trust will also pay monthly health insurance premiums so that the member will receive six months of free health insurance coverage during that time for their families.

"I don't want the industry dictating when members have kids," Bachman said. "This puts the decision in the hands of the member."

Bachman says the idea came to him from Bridget Quinn, workforce development coordinator for the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center. Quinn attended the 2017 Women Build Nations conference in Chicago where the Ironworkers unveiled their maternity leave plan and a member, Bridget Booker, told her miscarriage story, which was caused by working too far into her pregnancy for fear of losing her job.

"At that moment, the trades were not keen on having pregnant women on the job site," Booker said. "So, you would hide it. [The question was] do I provide for my children … or do I quit? Do I provide for my rent and my bills or do I tell them I am pregnant and lose everything?"

While it's illegal to fire someone for being pregnant, Quinn noted that proving such discrimination is difficult.

"Our industry has frequent layoffs and it is difficult to prove when a layoff is due to a woman being pregnant. Being able to take leave eliminates that fear of pregnancy-related layoff," Quinn said.

Bachman and Quinn said that the current healthcare coverage depends on banking hours over time to maintain coverage — hours that can quickly run out if a pregnant person takes leave. The new policy will freeze the member's healthcare bank so that her hours are not depleted.

"This leave policy will enable more women to join and remain in our industry, which is a huge benefit to contractors who rely on women to help them build their workforce," Quinn said.

With women comprising only about 3% of the construction workforce, offering such a benefit is a great way to recruit and retain more women. Quinn noted that when a woman knows that having children is a goal, they are left with some considerations to make regarding the type of career path they choose. Roughly 86% of women ages 40 to 44 are mothers, according to the Pew Research Center.

"Women will be encouraged to join and remain in this industry when they know that their healthcare and family needs are taken into account," Quinn said.

The benefit has already been utilized, Bachman said, and so far there have been no complaints.

"I'm so glad to see NECA/IBEW are supporting women who work in the trades," said Oregon Commissioner of Labor and Industries Val Hoyle in a statement. "Increasing the amount of protected time off women can take while pregnant and after childbirth is a great investment. It's good for women's careers, good for families and good for our workforce."


Pregnant members in Oregon now have expanded maternity leave benefits, making it easier to plan their families without risking their health.

Ohio Locals Honored by LAMPAC
for Job‑Protecting Efforts

Two IBEW locals in northern Ohio were honored in March for their work in helping to preserve nearly 4,300 nuclear energy jobs in the state.

"Thanks to the efforts of our members across Ohio, nuclear power in the Buckeye State will continue to provide steady, dependable employment for hundreds of our brothers and sisters, not to mention carbon-free electricity for millions of Ohioans," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

In a March 2 ceremony in Washington, Stephenson and Edison Electric Institute President Thomas R. Kuhn presented the IBEW's Fourth District — and Toledo Locals 245 and 1413 in particular — with the National Labor Management Public Affairs Committee Edwin D. Hill Award, which recognizes union and industry leaders who advance energy issues at various levels of government.

EEI represents investor-owned electric companies in the U.S. and more than 90 other countries, and the Hill Award is named for the former IBEW international president who died in 2018. National LAMPAC is a collaboration between the IBEW and EEI that focuses on making it easier for the two parties to address challenges within the energy industry together.

Last year, union activists across Ohio turned out in force to drum up support for House Bill 6, the Ohio Clean Energy Act, a measure to maintain operations at the state's only two nuclear power stations: the Davis-Besse plant outside Toledo, and its sibling facility, Perry, near Cleveland. Combined, the two plants employ hundreds of IBEW members and are owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, which also was lauded by National LAMPAC for its collaboration with the union's members to gain legislative backing for the bill.

The nuclear plants had struggled financially in the face of falling natural gas prices and other factors that put baseload power generation in Ohio at a marked disadvantage, and FES said it needed H.B. 6 to prevent the shutdown of both stations.

Local 245 members perform in-plant work and Local 1413 represents security workers at Davis-Besse, which opened in 1977 as Ohio's first nuclear power station. Toledo Local 8 also provides construction and maintenance workers there, while members of Painesville, Ohio, Local 673 have similar jobs at the decade-younger Perry plant.

"So many of our members, and the communities they live in, depend on these facilities for their survival," Stephenson said. The district and the locals helped customers and legislators see through the rhetoric against H.B. 6, he said.

"Local 245 Business Manager Larry Tscherne and Local 1413 Business Manager Brad Goetz never gave up. They kept it on the radar, which in turn kept me and other people focused on the issue," said Fourth District International Vice President Brian Malloy. "All our local unions definitely stepped up and lobbied their reps. The members never let up."

It was a process, Tscherne said. "Vice President Malloy made so many trips between [his office in] Maryland and Columbus," he said. "It took a full-court press, and it was really great to see it happen."

Together, Goetz and Tscherne led the effort to get representatives from both parties to sign on to the bill. "For Larry and me, we probably spent six years on this bill," Goetz said, a measure that had to be reintroduced every two years after elections brought in a new Ohio Legislature.

Hundreds of Ohio's union activists attended hearings and called on officials to bolster support for the bill, and Goetz and Tscherne gave the state's legislators personal plant tours.

"It's easy to vote 'yes' or 'no' on a bill," Goetz said. "But once you put a name or a face to what you're voting on, you might think twice about it."

Their efforts paid off: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law last June, and it took effect in October.

"Before H.B. 6, I talked to candidate DeWine about his vision of nuclear energy in Ohio," Tscherne said. "He told me that a bill has to reduce customers' electric bills, continue to address renewables, and preserve nuclear in the state."

H.B. 6 does all of that, Stephenson said. "Positive change can happen when we collaborate with our industry partners on behalf of our customers," he said.

You can read more about the bill and the battles to preserve Ohio's nuclear power plant jobs in the June 2018 Electrical Worker.

Honored during the same event in March were Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, for their combined efforts to help make nuclear plant licensing more efficient and to help provide some stability for future nuclear power plant investments.

In recognition of their efforts, the representatives were presented with an award named for Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, who died last year. Stephenson noted that the congressman had been a true champion of labor-management collaboration. The congressman's widow, Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, presented the award.


On hand for the presentation of National LAMPAC's 2020 Hill Award were, from left, EEI President Tom Kuhn, FirstEnergy Corp. Senior Vice President Mike Dowling, Local 245 Business Manager Larry Tscherne, Local 1413 Business Manager Brad Goetz, Fourth District International Representative Steve Crum, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson and American Electric Power CEO Nick Akins.

IBEW Visit Proves Eye‑Opening for Ohio Students

American hero, astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn had a long history of supporting organized labor and working families during his decades in public service.

In March, 25 students from his namesake John Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State University visited the IBEW's International Office for a tour and a lesson in the importance of unions and collective bargaining.

Katy Hogan, the director of the Glenn College's Washington Academic Internship Program, said the idea for the visit came from Brandon Bryan, an Ohio State graduate who toured the office and visited the IBEW's museum as a member of the program last year. Bryan's father is a member of Toledo, Ohio, Local 8.

"The students are asked to reflect on the most impactful things they did in D.C.," Hogan said. "Brandon said it felt like it connected him to his dad and how he learned about his career and how it led him on his own path to college."

The students got a surprise visit when they toured the executive offices from International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper, an Ohio native and former business manager of Mansfield, Ohio, Local 688.

"The visit was a surprise to him, and he was so excited," said the IBEW's archivist and museum curator, Curtis Bateman, who led the tour. "Secretary-Treasurer Cooper described the mission of the IBEW, its priorities, and not only what it provides to our members, but what unions do for the American economy to lift up all working people."

Cooper said speaking to students from his home state and studying at a program with Glenn's name was especially meaningful. Glenn, a native of Cambridge, Ohio, became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. He later represented the state for four terms in the Senate and, at the age of 77, returned to space in 1998 as part of a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery. He died in 2016.

"It was just a great, great moment," Cooper said of the half hour he spent with the group. "I had the honor of meeting Sen. Glenn a few times, and I know he would have been proud of those students. They were just so smart and so well prepared.

"Plus, I think we helped them appreciate the role of the IBEW and all unions in our society a little more. Educating younger people on the importance of organized labor is needed now more than ever."

Hogan said the students were impressed when they learned the IBEW was founded in 1891 to fight for safer conditions for workers in the burgeoning electrical industry, among the most dangerous jobs in America at that time.

Many were surprised to learn that collective bargaining is one of the most successful ways to eliminate gender pay gaps, because contracts don't distinguish between men and women on the job.

"They learned that unions are often in the public interest because they help create equality," Hogan said. "You get paid the same for the work you do at your skill regardless of race or gender. To hear that from the secretary-treasurer who has been in the union his entire adult life is really meaningful."

Students in the Glenn College's Washington program work as interns Monday-Thursday of each week and tour notable places on Friday. Past visits have included Smithsonian museums and think tanks, but the visit to the IBEW was among the best, she said.

Students were impressed, too.

"Getting a tour of the museum was really interesting," said Julia Romie, a junior from Dayton, Ohio, who took part in the visit. "We learned a lot about the history and the legacy of collective bargaining.

"Coming in, I was not familiar with the work of the IBEW. It was kind of cool to get a peek at all the work they've done and just how massive it is."

Cooper said he left the students with a quote from Sen. Glenn he often uses during organizing campaigns, which he said perfectly sums up what the labor movement is all about. "I told them, 'Your self-worth is worth a lot more when you're part of something bigger than yourself.'"


Secretary/Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper (center, seated) meeting with students and staff from Ohio State's John Glenn College of Public Affairs on March 7.