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April 2021

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Colorado Member Wins Election to County Commission

Eppie Griego fell just a few votes short when he lost his first bid for a seat on the Pueblo County (Colo.) Board of Commissioners in 2012. That didn't discourage him in the least.

Griego, a Pueblo Local 12 member known for his high energy, made himself even more visible. He served on the county's Planning & Zoning Commission. He also figured he had to knock on even more doors in the lead-up to last year's Democratic primary.

"The thing about going door-to-door is you get to talk to real people," he said. "I'm not a real email guy. If you contact me, I'll come to your door and talk to you in person. You'll get to hear the real issues when you're out there."

The strategy paid off. Last June, Griego won a close race in the primary to fill an open seat. He ran unopposed in the November general election and took office in January, giving the IBEW and all of labor in southern Colorado an important voice in an area with a strong union tradition.

"Having an IBEW member at the table when important decisions are made is vital for working families in our community," said Local 12 Business Manager Tom Kelley, noting that Griego sits on the local's executive committee as well. "I can't think of anyone better suited than Eppie. He's lived here his entire life and his love for the area and its people is obvious. He understands that a strong union movement leads to a strong community for everyone. That's because he's lived that."

Griego is one of three members of the Board of Commissioners, which oversees the county's budget, major infrastructure projects and local government services. Colorado law requires it to have a balanced budget each year. It is a full-time position.

"I have known Eppie and his family for more than a dozen years," said Eighth District Vice President Jerry Bellah, a former business manager at Pueblo Local 667. "I am very proud of him. He has and will continue to be a great representative of the IBEW in our community."

Griego, 62, has been a member of several unions and became a member of Local 12 just seven years ago as a groundman. He later moved up to a ground operator position with a CDL license.

He highlighted his union credentials in the lead-up to the election. That strategy paid off in Pueblo, traditionally a strong union town because the steel industry has had a large presence there.

"I'm out in the community," Griego said. "Being on planning and zoning really helped me. That's a good commission dealing with land issues, so I was visible."

Griego's community involvement is deep. He and his wife, Rayann, have four grown children and were foster parents to nearly 150 children for more than 30 years until their own son was injured in an auto accident and needed more personal care.

"We enjoyed helping children and moving their lives forward," he said.

He previously was a member of the Laborers, the Steelworkers and the United Transportation Union and was endorsed by several unions in southern Colorado. Rayann is a union member herself. She works as a psychiatric technician and is a member of Colorado WINS, a leading public-sector union in the state.

Here's Griego's advice for any IBEW member thinking about running for office in their communities:

First, get involved in your local union and don't be shy about speaking up during membership meetings, even if your opinion is in the minority. Local unions are a great example of democracy at work, he said.

"In a union meeting, if you believe in something, say it," he said.

And second, look for boards and committees to serve on. You'll not only build confidence in yourself, he says; you'll also get a chance to show people with little exposure to unions just how valuable they can be. Griego especially recommends the local Chamber of Commerce — and the Latino Chamber of Commerce for Latino members like himself — because of its business focus, but he stresses any volunteer opportunity is important.

"There are so many boards in Pueblo as well as in every city across the country," he said. "It's important to get in on them. That's how you get out in the community."

Of course, Griego isn't shaking many hands these days. Even during the campaign, he eventually had to stop handshakes. He learned to speak to people from a distance through virtual technology.

Like many public officials, he's seen some of his plans take a backseat to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which now includes distributing the vaccines to Pueblo County residents in a timely manner.

Nearly every meeting is now held virtually. When asked what he's learned as a politician, he joked, "To use Zoom.

"But seriously, I am learning something new every day through policy and through my colleagues."

He said he's enjoying the work and wants to make sure the community understands the vital role of unions. A particular area of interest is stressing to Pueblo's younger population that they should explore apprenticeships instead of a costly four-year college if they are interested in working with their hands. Like most of the United States, Pueblo has a shortage of skilled construction workers and electricians.

"I want people to understand the best apprenticeship comes from the IBEW," he said. "You get to work and make a living wage, you learn on the job and you don't get that debt. What could be better than that?"



Pueblo, Colo., Local 12 member Eppie Griego, right with black mask, being sworn in as a member of the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners.

Training Grants Help Put California Wiremen
Ahead of the Curve on Microgrids

Keeping ahead of the latest electrical technologies has helped IBEW members capture work and market share for 130 years. A timely new grant program for electrical storage and microgrid (ESM) system training in California will help members and locals there continue to stay ahead of the curve of the green energy revolution.

The grant program, managed by the California Workforce Development Board, is making available $1.25 million to help boost training efforts toward the IBEW-led Electrical Storage and Microgrid Training and Certification (ESAMTAC).

"This certification will allow our members to provide customers with an extra measure of confidence that the IBEW electricians who are handling ESM installations will get every aspect of those jobs done safely and properly," said International Vice President John O'Rourke, whose Ninth District jurisdiction includes California.

The IBEW and its partners at the National Electrical Contractors Association have been working over the last few years to put together the ESAMTAC initiative, with input from expert organizations such as the American National Standards Institute, the National Science Foundation and the Electric Power Research Institute, as well as professors at Penn State University.

ESAMTAC also has support from energy storage and battery manufacturers, along with contractors having experience with data centers, where safe battery installation and maintenance are crucial.

Microgrids are becoming increasingly attractive because they can provide power, usually from solar or wind, cleanly and efficiently to places like remote neighborhoods and college campuses that are not connected to the grid. Microgrids often combined solar and wind to generate power with batteries to provide liability.

An effective way to capture work in a new and emerging market like ESMs, O'Rourke said, is to help set the standards for that work and then gain certification in it. Doing so sets IBEW members apart from other contractors who claim, without evidence, that they are qualified to do the work.

"Pretty much every state now has some sort of renewable energy standard that they're trying to achieve," O'Rourke said. "We're trying really hard to make sure all of this work goes to us."

Some of the equipment needed for ESM training can be expensive, though, so having access to the grant money should help offset those costs and encourage Electrical Training Alliance centers in California to adopt the ESAMTAC curriculum.

Johnny Simpson, an international representative in the Ninth District who specializes in green energy issues, compared ESAMTAC training to the certification many IBEW members are getting through another program the union also helped develop: the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP).

"The certification in these things might not help you today, but the IBEW is successful when all of its members are ready for the future," Simpson said. "We have to take every opportunity and put it all together."

The grant money should also help accelerate the eventual growth and acceptance of the ESAMTAC program beyond the state's borders, O'Rourke said. As ESAMTAC takes hold across the U.S., customers eventually will be able to search a national web database to find qualified and certified electricians and contractors, so getting trained and on that list is important for securing that future work.

Certification also helps allay customer fears about the electrical storage component, especially those who worry about possible leaks or overheating, Simpson said. Because it was designed by the IBEW and NECA, the ESAMTAC program fully integrates with our proven apprenticeship classroom and hands-on training, he said.

"Countless IBEW members already have been trained on these systems, in one form or another, as part of their existing apprenticeships and continuing education," O'Rourke said. "ESAMTAC codifies it and helps all of us meet the challenges of staying informed on these evolving technologies."

The $1.25 million ESM grant from the California Workforce Development Board is part of $10 million in so-called High Road Training Partnerships awards. ESMs and 10 other projects across various industries have been identified as playing a role in California's efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. This first round of HRTP grants come from California Climate Investments funded by the state's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.


A $1.25 million grant from the state of California is set to help train and certify more IBEW members to work on electrical storage and microgrids projects like this battery storage facility in the Imperial Valley.