The Electrical Worker online
April 2021

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
Hollywood Local Offers New Opportunities to
Members During Pandemic

The coronavirus has forced millions into unemployment, with many wondering what their next steps should — or even could — be. For two members of Hollywood, Calif., Local 40, the answer came right from their local union.

"We want to be able to provide help to these guys in any way we can," said Business Manager Marc Flynn. "We know how tough it is out there."

Local 40 member Rob Siminoski has been with Universal Studios Hollywood for a decade. The stage manager runs all the theatrical shows at the theme park including The Waterworld Stunt Show and the Harry Potter-themed TriWizard Tournament and Hogwarts School Choir. Stage managers are the show runners and primary point of contact between labor and management during day-to-day operations, scheduling breaks for other union laborers like IATSE, and acting as a liaison between the union technical services department and other nonunion contractors.

But despite his 10 years, he's still got a long way to go before he'll accrue enough seniority to get a full 50 weeks of work every year. During slow months he often has to take outside work managing nonunion touring shows to make ends meet. And now, with the coronavirus shutting down so much of Hollywood, he's decided to make a career change, to something still with Local 40 but with more job security.

"Prior to the outbreak, other Local 40 members had encouraged me to look into the apprenticeship program," Siminoski said. "It seemed like a great way to learn new, transferable skills and get good union benefits."

While the coronavirus slowed the work picture, the apprenticeship moved forward and Siminoski applied.

"I'm excited to learn the trade, and to work regularly and provide for my family," he said. "It's something I wish I had done much earlier in my life."

Local 40, which was established almost 100 years ago, around the same time as many of the major studios in Los Angeles, has more than 800 members that work as inside wiremen, motion picture electricians, HVAC and sound workers, stage managers, special effects technicians, audio mixers, and on-set air and power workers, to name a few of its classifications.

"Some of our members have won Oscars," Flynn said.

Siminoski is applying to the inside apprenticeship, a five-year program with 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 10 semesters of in-class education. He and his cohort will also learn about electric vehicle charging stations and green energy microgrid systems, ensuring that they'll graduate with skills to match the new technology of the industry.

The grandson of an IBEW member, Siminoski has been active in the local and credits his involvement to his family's history of labor activism. He's served on the negotiating committee, as a steward and has traveled twice to Sacramento to lobby on behalf of pro-union legislation.

"In a way, his lobbying efforts helped create the apprenticeship opportunity that's now open to him," Flynn said.

There's a good chance Siminoski will be joined by another Local 40 member who's also looking to change gears. Bill Brown has been a pyro technician since the mid-90s, working at places like Universal Studios and Disneyland. But the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, and not knowing when things will get back to normal, or what normal will even look like, got him thinking about other options.

"I hope I never fall into this situation again," Brown said of the pandemic's toll on the entertainment industry. "But people will always need electricians."

Brown has done some electrical work before, and has a degree in electronics, but says he's eager to get the official certification.

"It's a little like being a jack of all trades and a master of none," Brown said. "I'm looking forward to getting a formal training, to have the knowledge and be able to show that I've done the work."

He's not planning on giving up pyrotechnics altogether though.

"I can still do it on weekends," Brown said. "Other members have done it that way."

Like Siminoski, Brown says he's thankful to have this chance available to him through his union.

"If the union wasn't there, I wouldn't have this opportunity," Brown said. "Not everybody has something like this available to them."

Both Brown and Siminoski will be stepping into new careers in an industry they've known for years, but one that is, like everywhere else, operating under new COVID protocols. Thanks in part to union negotiations, film sets now have mandatory coronavirus testing, including pre-employment testing, as well as paid sick leave and requirements for masks, social distancing and sanitizer, all enforced by an onsite COVID monitor.

It's possible that Brown and Siminoski's apprenticeship will have them pulling wire and bending conduit on a new attraction at Universal Studios, the Nintendo World theme park. It's one of a number of projects coming up for Local 40, Flynn said.

"There's work on the horizon," Flynn said. "There's a lot going on in the multimedia industry, and there's also work around the FIFA World Cup in 2026 and the 2028 Olympics."

Flynn says they've had other members transition from different classifications into the inside apprenticeship, and they've been successful. And last year, the local was able to find work at neighboring locals for some of its sound members who were impacted by the closing of the Universal Studios theme park.

"Whatever we can do for our members, that's what we'll do," Flynn said. "These opportunities were here before COVID, and they'll still be here after the virus is contained."


Hollywood, Calif., Local 40 member Rob Siminoski, left, is switching careers but staying with his union. In fact, Local 40 is training him for the transition.

BC Local's Inclusion Efforts Take Off

When Kamloops, British Columbia, Local 993 member Alison Klie got to the Royal Inland Hospital jobsite, she saw something very different from just about every other job she'd been to in her 10-year career: another woman.

"My first day at the hospital tower I kept seeing women I knew through 993 and it blew me away," Klie said. "I have never been on a site with so many women before and I love it. I think it brings a different energy to the job and definitely among the women themselves. I also feel a sense of pride that my union and the company I work for has made this possible."

The Royal Inland Hospital project, located in Kamloops, has 17% women and Indigenous people working on it, much higher than the usual 3 or 4%. And that's due in large part to efforts from Local 993 and other British Columbia-based groups dedicated to making the trades more inclusive.

"Having 17% representation is unusual for a jobsite," said Local 993 Assistant Business Manager Mollie Routledge. "It's also amazing."

Recruiting and retaining more people from historically marginalized groups isn't just good for the new members. It's also needed for the construction industry to meet demand in the coming years. According the BC Building Trades, a large population of skilled trade workers is gearing up for retirement, and an estimated 300,000 Canadian workers will need to be recruited over the next decade to fill the gap. The hospital's tower project alone, which has contracted with IBEW signatories Houle Electric and ESC Automation, will require over 100 electricians at its peak.

Getting 17% representation comes in part from doing something seemingly simple: having new members meet other members who look like them. Local 993, which covers northern British Columbia as well as the Yukon Territory, makes sure to have its women officers, who are involved in membership development, meet the new recruits.

"It gives a fresh face to a male-dominated industry," said Routledge, who co-chairs Local 993's women's committee and sits on the board of BC Build Together, a woman-focused campaign of the BC Building Trades.

The local's women's committee has been developing a boots-on-the-ground approach, Routledge said, which is currently being used on the Royal Inland Hospital project. New women electricians are given contact information for other women members they can contact for guidance and support.

"Having another woman to talk to, just to say out loud what's happening, makes a big difference," said Angie Camille, Local 993's Indigenous coordinator. "When I first started out, I had no one to talk to."

As a First Nations member, Camille knows what it's like to be the only one on a jobsite. She's also only one generation removed from Canada's residential school system, a bleak period in the country's history that involved forced assimilation and abuse of Indigenous people.

"We survived," Camille said. "And now I can speak to other First Nations people, as an electrician with my journey ticket, and tell them, 'If I can do it, so can you.'"

Camille is also the First District's representative to the IBEW International Women's Committee.

"When a vacancy occurred in our District for the International Women's Committee, I didn't hesitate to reach out to Local 993. They've been doing great work to attract and retain more female and Indigenous workers over the years," said First District International Vice President Tom Reid, who nominated Camille last November. "Angie is a passionate member and I look forward to her representing the First District on the committee. She brings a lot to the table."

Camille's journey has been far from easy. She's dealt with everything from being relegated to mostly cleaning work on jobsites and struggling to get enough hours, to being the only Indigenous woman on a site with more than 500 workers, and even death threats. But she made a promise to her grandmother to see it through, and she couldn't go back on that.

"She told me that I couldn't quit, no matter what, and that I had to respect myself and the job," Camille said. "So, whenever I felt defeated, I remembered my grandmother."

Her grandmother also gave her another piece of advice.

"She told me, 'They're more afraid of you being there than you are.'"

The coronavirus has halted much of the outreach that Routledge and Camille would normally do to trades schools and colleges. But the local's women's committee is forging ahead with meetings through conference calls and Zoom for mentoring, planning, fundraising and organizing events.

"The thing that really jumps out to me that 993 does well is it offers support and connection for its more marginalized members," said Klie, who is also a mentor. "Mollie would always make sure to talk with me at the meetings and make me feel welcome there. Now I make sure to say hi and be friendly to those who are new or seem a little uncomfortable."

Klie came into the trade by accident. When she told her high school career counselor that she was interested in the esthetician program, she accidentally got the electrician forms instead. But after thinking it over, she decided to try it out and she's never looked back. It even led to her running for city council and meeting the B.C. premier.

"I'm a more confident person because of what I have experienced throughout my career as an electrician," Klie said. "Without that confidence I could have never run for council or stood in front of the premier and told him how, as a woman on a nonunion job, I made 3–5 dollars less an hour than my male counterparts."

Klie has also been invited to speak to the Thompson Rivers University Women in Trades Training class about her experience in the trades.

"I was never a fan of public speaking, but for some reason talking about my job just comes naturally, no matter how many people I'm in front of," Klie said.

Camille, Klie and Routledge all emphasized the importance of having the support of leadership to create and implement initiatives like a successful women's committee and mentorship program.

"Our business manager, Glen Hilton, is very supportive of our efforts. He's always open to hearing our ideas," Klie said. "As a woman, I have felt more accepted and appreciated as a member of 993 than I have at most of my past jobs and that goes a long way for retention."


Kamloops, British Columbia, Local 993 has achieved 17% representation of women and Indigenous people on a recent project, the Royal Inland Hospital, thanks in large part to their efforts at recruitment and retention.

St. Paul Local Leaves No Family Behind in Food Giveaway

Cars stretched as far down the road as volunteers could see as they hefted 30-pound boxes of perishables and loaded them into trunks and back seats outside their Local 110 union hall in St. Paul, Minn.

The well-oiled operation gave away more than 40,000 pounds of USDA-provided food and milk the third Saturday in February, the local's turn at a dozen such winter events scheduled by the region's AFL-CIO.

"The labor federation was very impressed by how many volunteers we had and how fast the food went," said coordinator Logan Beere, a Local 110 journeyman wireman and staff representative.

The marketing campaign that preceded it was a feat in its own right.

Assistant Business Manager Doug Suchanek said members relentlessly emailed, texted and called civic leaders — from the City Council to county commissioners to the YMCA — asking them to spread the word on social media.

They mailed flyers and taped them to walls in the neighborhood's low-income apartment buildings. Beere even flew his personal drone above the union hall to record a video that helped people identify the building. It got 2,100 Facebook views.

Determined that no one in need would miss the opportunity, they began promoting the giveaway three weeks in advance, hammering home the what, where and when: Feb. 13.

But winter refused to cooperate, locking Minnesota in a minus-20 deep freeze with wind chills twice as brutal in the days leading up to the event.

Rapidly retracing their steps, they scrambled to publicize the postponement and new date, Feb. 20.

That morning, in much more tolerable 20-degree weather, some 40 eager volunteers arrived to find a refrigerated semi-truck from the Department of Agriculture's Farmers to Families program waiting for them.

It held 1,300 prepared boxes of fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese, and another 1,300 gallons of milk. Each package contained about a week's supply for a family of four.

Running a forklift, Local 110 member Ed Nelson began unloading pallets, lining them up in the parking lot as directed by his union brothers and sisters.

By 11 a.m. they were ready to go, waving in 8–10 cars at a time, a steady flow that trickled down over the course of four hours.

Through their protective masks, volunteers asked recipients how many boxes they needed, based on the size of their families and whether they were picking up for anyone else. It was all on the honor system; no other questions asked.

The gratitude was palpable. "Every person that picked up food, literally everyone, said, 'Thank you so much for doing this.' Even our own volunteers were thanking us,'" Beere said.

A labor newspaper, the Union Advocate, highlighted Local 110's efforts in a feature about the region's unions embracing the food distribution program, and quoted Business Manager Jamie McNamara.

"We're extremely honored to be able to provide food to the East Side of St. Paul," he said. "The IBEW has a great partnership with the community here, and we're very grateful to be of service to a community that's been so good to us. We look forward to doing another one of these in the future."

And they will. When impressed and grateful AFL-CIO coordinators asked if the local would be willing to host another event March 27, there was no hesitation.

"It went so well," Beere said. "Everybody was happy, smiling, feeling good. The volunteers are definitely excited about doing it again."


IBEW volunteers from St. Paul, Minn., Local 110 carried out a well-organized drive-through grocery giveaway in February, distributing 1,300 boxes of USDA farm-fresh food and milk to area families.

Baltimore Members Go Bald to Fight Childhood Cancer

Countless IBEW brothers and sisters regularly give their time and money to worthy causes. But few go to the lengths of some members of Baltimore Local 24, who volunteer each year to allow their hair to be publicly sheared off to raise money in the fight against childhood cancers.

"2021 is our 6th year as an IBEW team," said Local 24 inside journeyman wireman James Chwirut, "and our team has grown through grassroots organizing in the local to raise over $30,000 in those years."

The money raised goes to the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a California-based charity dedicated to funding research into the causes of, and potential cures for, childhood cancers. The organization's first head-shaving event, in 2000, was held in New York City on March 17 — St. Patrick's Day. (Mash up "bald" and "St. Patrick" and you get the wholly fictitious "St. Baldrick.")

Chwirut is the captain of the Charm City Wire Nuts, a group of IBEW members comprising Local 24's St. Baldrick's team. "Last year, before the pandemic, we had 24 members on our team and raised nearly $13,000," Chwirut said. "It was our largest and most successful effort to date."

The Charm City Wire Nuts — "Charm City" is one of Baltimore's nicknames — participate along with several teams in the larger Baltimore Heroes event, which has been led since 2009 by volunteers from the Baltimore County Fire Department.

According to the foundation's website, 73% of St. Baldrick's fundraising goes to research to find a cure, 23% goes to fundraising, and the remainder pays for basic administration. The charity says that since 2005, it has awarded more than $305 million to support lifesaving research, pediatric cancer clinical trials and grants to train researchers outside the U.S.

"All of our fundraising culminates in having our heads shaved as a show of solidarity with the kids," Chwirut said, many of whom lose their hair following chemotherapy treatments used to attack the cancer cells in their bodies.

Last year's event in the Baltimore suburb of Rossdale took place about a week before the state of Maryland, as well as most of the rest of North America, began canceling large community gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"We raised enough money that Neil Wilford, head of Local 24's Joint Apprenticeship and Training Center, joined the team and got shaved with us," Chwirut said.

"At first, James approached me about making pitches to our apprentices," Wilford said. And when Chwirut suggested that more apprentices might sign up to take part if Wilford did, too, the JATC director didn't hesitate. "If it helps the cause, I'm in," he said.

The easiest parts for Wilford were registering for the event and showing up. "James guided me along," he said. "Once it came time, I went up on stage and they just took care of business."

The day of the event typically is "controlled chaos," Chwirut said, considering the number of volunteers and spectators on hand. A handful of barber chairs are set up on a stage, and then the hair cutters — workers from Sports Clips, a national St. Baldrick's sponsor, as well as local barbers — get to work, quickly shearing the head of each fund raiser.

"You have hundreds of pairs of eyes staring up at you," Chwirut said, "and you know you're going to look weird for at least a week."

It wasn't a terribly dramatic experience for Wilford, though. "I've always kept my hair short," he said. "Really, the biggest problem was that my head was cold.

"We saw a lot of the kids it benefits there," he said, along with firefighters, police officers and members of other unions. "Everybody had a good time."

For this year's event, the Wire Nuts raised money in honor of Brandon Williams, a four-year inside journeyman wireman from Local 24 who died last October from injuries he sustained in a tragic tractor accident on his property in northern Baltimore County.

"Being bald to Brandon was a mark of pride and honor," said Dan Berwanger, a fellow Baltimore Local 24 member and one of Williams' best friends. "He loved wearing all of his St. Baldrick's shirts every chance he got, and he tried to recruit people to the cause when they asked why he shaved.

"This cause, to him, was worth fighting for," Berwanger said. "He took extreme pride and joy in knowing even if his efforts only helped one child, it was worth the cold head."

Even though COVID-19 forced this year's March 7 Baltimore Heroes event to be largely virtual, Chwirut and his Wire Nuts were able to secure an outdoor space to do some safe, in-person head shaving in the parking lot of Key Brewing Co. in nearby Dundalk. "It's been harder to drum up support," he admitted.

Even so, the Charm City Wire Nuts were the fundraising leaders for the Baltimore Heroes event, raising almost $9,000.

"These kinds of things are great for bringing the brotherhood together, and without regular in-person union meetings, that's been a challenge," said Local 24 Business Manager Peter Demchuk. "These days, anything that can get the members together safely is a good thing."


Local 24 members getting buzz cuts for charity: (standing, from left) Chris Ardoin, John Knauer, James Chwirut, Josh Peters and (seated) Dan Berwanger.

Local 948, NECA Combine to Give
Healthcare Workers a Lift in Troubled Flint

Healthcare workers across North America have been on the frontlines battling the COVID-19 pandemic for more than one year. Forgive those in Flint, Mich., if these stressful times have felt much longer than that.

For several years, they've been dealing with the impact of a clean-water crisis that brought international attention to the city. There's also been the health challenges brought on by the devastation of the community's once-thriving manufacturing sector.

So, when Flint Local 948 and the Michigan chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association combined to serve meals to staff at all three local hospitals on Feb. 3, it was more than appreciated.

"It's been a huge blessing," Raquel Largent, director of inpatient rehabilitation and therapy services at Ascension Genesys Hospital Center, told Flint television station WJRT. "I mean, it might not seem like a big deal but it does take time. So to be able to just stay on your unit and be able to just kind of take a rest and have a meal brought to you, it's a little thing but it means the world."

That made Business Manager Greg Remington and other Local 948 members feel good on the sunny winter day. Local 948 and NECA purchased the meals from locally-owned restaurants in Flint and volunteers distributed them.

"We wanted to show some appreciation for the workers, but not only that, anyone that pays attention knows a lot of local restaurants have been locked down," Remington said. "This wasn't just for frontline workers but also for those restaurants who we hope are going to make it through this."

Local unions across North America have stepped up to aid healthcare workers during the pandemic. In Flint, Remington had a very public ally in bringing it together in Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson.

Swanson gained national recognition last summer during Black Lives Matter protests in the city, in which he was credited for treating the protesters with respect and helping to defuse a volatile situation. A video of him taking off his riot gear and walking with protesters went viral across the internet and he was interviewed by several national media outlets.

He has had a friendship for years with Remington and other Local 948 members. The first fundraiser during his campaign for sheriff was held at Local 948's hall.

So, when Remington was looking for restaurants to take part, he called Swanson, who had them lined up within two hours. He also agreed to help deliver the meals along with other members of his department.

Remington also reached out to NECA, which jointly administers the labor-management cooperative fund along with the IBEW. A small portion of IBEW members and NECA signatory contractors' fees are put into the fund, which is used to support community service projects.

"We knew the Genesee County area has been hit pretty hard during the pandemic," said Neil Parish, executive director of NECA's Michigan chapter. "We also know there are a ton of people who worked around the clock taking care of our loved ones that got sick. We just wanted to show our appreciation. It's a small gesture in the grand scheme of things but it's nice for the folks doing that work."

Second- and third-shift workers also received meals. Remington noted that Local 948 members helped build the three hospitals in Genesee County and still perform maintenance work at all of them.

"We helped a lot of people who have helped us," he said.

Ann Arbor Local 252 and Lansing Local 655 also have provided meals for healthcare workers in their communities with NECA's help during the pandemic, Parish said.

"We have this money in place and it's ready to go because of the commitment to our communities," he said.

Once a symbol of American automobile production, Flint is a strong union town that has been hit hard by the loss of factory jobs and most of its auto assembly plants. The only one remaining is the General Motors plant that produces the company's full-size pickup trucks.

Swanson made sure to mention the IBEW and the city's union tradition while delivering the meals, saying it developed the city's strong character. He also said it's a continuation of the "Walk with Us" movement he helped start last summer with the protesters.

"We continue to take care of people," he told WJRT. "This was just another example."


Raquel Largent from Ascension Genesys Hospital Center in Flint, Mich., joined Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson, left, in thanking Local 948 for donating meals to health-care workers.