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July 2021

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Ambitious N.J. Green Energy Plan is
Achievable with IBEW's Help

IBEW members in New Jersey are lauding Governor Phil Murphy's announcement earlier this year to spend nearly $100 million on an effort to develop and expand emission-free transportation projects in the Garden State.

"It's good for the environment and it's good for the IBEW," said Jersey City, N.J., Local 164 Business Manager Dan Gumble. "Clean air, green jobs, what could be better? Thank you, Governor Murphy, for making the union trades part of this effort."

Murphy's ambitious proposal comes with an equally ambitious goal: for his state to be powered fully by green energy by 2050. The kinds of things that IBEW members work on every day — electrification programs, electric mobility vehicles, and charging infrastructure — are major components in the plan.

"We have a very good relationship with the governor," Gumble said. "Talking with him and his staff, we were assured that these jobs are going to be union jobs."

A part of Murphy's plan, for example, is deployment of electric garbage and delivery trucks that require a lot of power. "Some of them have batteries the size of a commercial refrigerator," Gumble said.

One garage where such trucks are stored is more than 75 years old, he said. "Right next to it are all these mechanicals," Gumble said. "It's structurally good, but the electrical service is inadequate for handling what the governor wants to do, and it needs to be upgraded. That's typical of a building that's over five generations old, and it's something we can handle."

Rapidly evolving 21st-century technologies complicate things further, he said. "Even something five years or older is inadequate," Gumble said. "But part of what we do is to be cutting edge and be prepared for the next wave."

Millions of dollars under Murphy's plan also will go toward equitable mobility projects across the state designed to bring electric ride-hailing service vehicles to various communities. They, as well as increasing numbers of electric vehicle drivers throughout the state, will need hundreds of fast-charging stations that exist only on paper so far.

Here, the IBEW's Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP), developed by St. Louis Local 1, will come in handy, Gumble said. "All municipal vehicle purchases going forward will be battery operated, electric. Obviously, they'll need charging stations for all of these things, so this is a massive home run for the IBEW."

Murphy's announcement also established a state Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy and created a council to help guide the office's strategies and new initiatives. Gumble, New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council President Bill Mullen and New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech are labor's representatives on the 20-member council, with New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo serving as a co-chair.

"Any time labor gets a seat at the table, it's to the IBEW's advantage," Gumble said. "Anytime we get asked to be there, we say yes."

Most of the funding for Murphy's plan comes from New Jersey's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative effort of 11 North Atlantic states that mandates the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from power generation by 30% between 2020 and 2030.

"Climate change is the single greatest long-term threat currently facing humanity, and our state and economy are uniquely vulnerable to its devastating effects," Murphy said. "The investments we are announcing today signify our commitment to environmental justice and equity, while building a cleaner economy that works for all."

The RGGI is the beneficiary of the millions of dollars allocated to New Jersey from the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust, a $3 billion settlement resulting from the Environmental Protection Agency's finding in 2015 that the car manufacturer had secretly installed devices in certain models of diesel vehicles that were designed to cheat federal and state regulator emission tests.

Millions more dollars from this trust, under Murphy's plan, will help keep IBEW members working on electrifying the state's ports and industrial areas, as well as buses used by school systems and NJ Transit.

"They want to train people here in New Jersey, too, and manufacture the infrastructure materials they need for renewables, storage, transformers and more," Gumble said. "The IBEW is in a strong position to make and install the building blocks for a fully green New Jersey.

"Murphy's plan is great for the environment, and it's really important for the working class in this state. We are the backbone," Gumble said. "Infrastructure never ends. We'll get many man-hours and put a ton of people to work."


New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (second from left) inspects just one of the hundreds of electric garbage trucks for which IBEW members around the state will be called upon to help install charging and other infrastructure in the coming years.

The Cost of Eroding Collective Bargaining

The cost of declining union membership has been extraordinarily high for both union and nonunion workers, a new study found.

The report from the Economic Policy Institute found that the erosion of collective bargaining has been a driving factor depressing wage growth for middle earners over the last four decades. And that same inability to join together at work is also a major factor influencing the growth of wage inequality.

"These findings show once again that unions are the best check on corporate greed," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. "When workers have a voice on the job, it benefits everyone, not just union members."

The report, authored by EPI's Distinguished Fellow Lawrence Mishel, states that the decades-long erosion in union membership has lowered the median hourly wage by $1.56, a 7.9% decline from 1979 to 2017. These losses equate to about $3,250 annually for a full-time, full-year worker.

"For decades, the erosion of collective bargaining was a major factor depressing wage growth for the typical worker and driving the growth of wage inequality. But this decline of unions wasn't inevitable — it was a deliberate policy choice made on behalf of wealthy interests and corporations, and it can be reversed," Mishel said. "Rebuilding collective bargaining is a necessary component of any policy agenda to reestablish robust wage growth for the vast majority of workers in the United States."

In 1979, 27% of working people were covered by a contract they had bargained for. By 2019, that share had dropped to just 11.6%. Not coincidentally, that time period is also when income inequality widened to levels not seen in decades. According to another EPI report, the top 1% of Americans made 26.3 times as much income as the bottom 99% in 2015. Put another way, this rarefied group of rich Americans took home more than 22% of all income — the highest share since a peak of 23.9% just before the Great Depression in 1928.

Mishel also noted that, because more men than women were union members in 1979, that the decline has been especially harmful to men's wages. At that time, 31.5% of men were covered by collective bargaining versus 18.8% of women. However, current trends show that broadening unionization would benefit women at least as much as men.

The report, released in April, also pointed to research on the "spillover effects" of unionization on nonunionized workers, finding that, when the share of workers who are union members is relatively high, as it was in 1979, wages of nonunion workers are also higher. Had private-sector union density in 2013 remained at its 1979 level, weekly wages of nonunion men in the private sector would have been 5% higher, the equivalent of an additional $2,704 in earnings for year-round workers.

"This research demonstrates that the erosion of collective bargaining has been the largest single factor driving a wedge between middle- and high-wage male workers," the report stated.

In another study by Mishel, co-authored by the EPI's director of research Josh Bivens, found that workers would be making $10 more an hour if their wages had kept up with increases in productivity. The authors state that, when policies were oriented toward sharing productivity growth across income classes, wages kept up. But when the policies shifted — more toward employers, and at the expense of their employees — wages faltered. Among those policy shifts is the erosion of collective bargaining.

All this comes at a time when multiple research studies are showing that support for unions is strong. Almost half of all workers would join a union if they could, one study found. And Gallup's 2020 poll put union support at 65%, the highest in a decade.

"Unions disproportionately benefit workers with low and moderate wages, workers with lower levels of education, and Black and Brown workers. Collective bargaining not only benefits union workers, but nonunion workers as well by raising wage standards across industries," Mishel said. Policymakers, he continued, "must urgently restore workers' freedom to form a union, and that includes passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act."

The PRO Act is major, comprehensive legislation that would make it easier for working people to join a union, while also increasing penalties for employers who try to stand in their way. It passed the House of Representatives in March, and has the support of President Joe Biden, but faces an uphill battle in the Senate.


A report from the Economic Policy Institute studied how the decline in collective bargaining has affected both union and nonunion workers' wages, contributing to rising inequality.

Source: Economic Policy Institute

Local 3 Sister Earns Historic Role on
New York Joint Industry Board

New York Local 3 member Michele Maldonado recently added another achievement to her long list of career accomplishments: the first woman assistant employment director of the Joint Industry Board.

"I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity," Maldonado said. "Being the first woman in this role is truly humbling. And it provides yet another example of how committed to diversity and inclusion Local 3 is."

The JIB is a joint partnership between Local 3 members and contractors in the New York electrical industry. Founded in 1943 to promote harmony between the two groups, the board administers benefits for members and their families and coordinates all labor-management efforts for not only Local 3's Construction Division members and more than 300 affiliated contractors, but most of Local 3's membership and signatory employers.

Maldonado's duties run the gamut from ensuring everyone is up to date on their safety certifications to making sure that contractors are hiring the right number of electricians. And if for some reason they aren't, she'll reach out and do what she can to solve it so things don't go to a place like arbitration.

"My job is to be the heavy, and they're not always used to getting that call from a woman," she said. "But I try to be positive. It's ultimately about helping both the union and the contractor."

The journeywoman also brings her personal experience as a woman of color and single mom. She knows first-hand the importance of things like having your jobsite close to your home and the daycare that will take your child at 5 a.m.

"I understand the struggle," Maldonado said. "I think it makes me more tolerant. I want to hear their stories, why they need what they need, so I can help."

It's also a job that takes a certain type of personality, says Local 3 Business Manager Chris Erikson. You need to be fair and even-handed but also able to deal with the contractors — and members — who need to be dealt with.

"In all this you need to be just. But sometimes you have to go outside the usual boundaries to get there. Michele is smart enough and wise enough to do that," Erikson said. "She can bob and weave. She knows it's not always a straight line."

Maldonado brings not only her electrical and forewoman experience to the role, but also her leadership skills from several of Local 3's numerous clubs. She's served as president of the Amber Light Society, the local's women's group; founder of the Family Wellness Club and the Electrical Workers' Minority Caucus Pride March committee; and as a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Laws and Resolutions Committee. She was also a member of the Board of Elections committee.

As many IBEW members can attest, it can be a bit of a culture shock to go from working on a construction site to an office setting. But Maldonado, who began her new role in January, says she's adjusting well, thanks in large part to her team.

"I can put an electrical outlet in the wall easier than I can use the computer," she joked. "But I have a great team full of talented and fun-loving people. We're a pretty well-oiled machine."

Erikson and Maldonado are quick to point out that while the native New Yorker is the first woman to serve in her particular role, she's not the first woman to assume a leadership position in the local or at the JIB. Nor will she be the last.

"We've had women serving as representatives and officers for years, long before it was fashionable," Erikson said. "It's the natural progression of things. Somebody opens the door and that sets the stage for more women to come through, and up, the ranks."

With Maldonado's new job being full-time, she's had to step down from many of her other roles with Local 3, but she's happy to do it since it opens doors for next generation.

"That's my favorite part," she said. "Being a union activist is what's kept me in the industry. I'm more than happy to give these opportunities to other women and people of color."

Maldonado's appointment does mark the end of at least one era though. She's the last of her immediate family to work in the field. She and her sister went through the apprenticeship together back in the '90s, with their mother following one year behind. Her mother has since retired and her sister now works as a nurse.

"My mom was the most studious electrician. She would get like 98% on her tests. My sister was the most mechanically inclined, and I was the most well-rounded," Maldonado said.

Maldonado says her appointment to the Joint Industry Board is proof that all her time spent as a union activist has paid off and that Local 3 is a great place to acquire not just electrical skills but leadership experience.

"I'm a testament to my union's growth as much as my own," Maldonado said. "A lot of times a woman can become the 'It Girl' because you're the only one. That's becoming less and less the case. And now that I've been able to move on, I can help groom the next generation. My career is full-circle now."


New York Local 3 member Michele Maldonado was named assistant employment director of the Joint Industry Board, the first woman to serve in the role.

NY HERO Act Signed Into Law

Legislation to provide workplace protections against the coronavirus, as well as future outbreaks, has been signed into law in New York. It's the first state to make such safeguards permanent.

"Every day, working people have gone above and beyond to carry us through the COVID-19 pandemic, and for too many of them the cost has been dire," said Mario Cilento, president of the state's AFL-CIO. "That is why the New York HERO Act is so critically important. It will help ensure a safer working environment moving forward."

Signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on May 5, the New York Health and Essential Rights Act amends existing labor law by codifying regulations to prevent the spread of airborne infectious diseases like COVID-19. The new standards include protocols on testing, staffing, personal protective equipment, social distancing and other issues. It also requires most larger employers to create health safety committees with their workforce included.

The law, which went into effect 30 days after being signed, will be available in English and Spanish, and includes anti-retaliation measures to protect employees who speak out about their working conditions.

"This is a historic step forward for working people and a preventative measure that will ensure we're better prepared for the next public health crisis," Cuomo said in a statement. "I was proud to sign this bill into law and look forward to reviewing the new standards to protect workers and build a stronger New York."

Syracuse Local 2213 Business Manager Barb Carson, whose members work for Verizon's call centers, says they're still waiting on details about returning to the office, but are cautiously optimistic.

"There's still a lot of apprehension about going back," Carson said. "It's going to be quite an adjustment after being at home for over a year."

Carson says they've started to have conversations about returning to the offices, which are spread throughout upstate New York, and that Verizon has committed to following all Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

"It's going to be a new normal, and a big adjustment no matter what," Carson said. "Knowing that our offices will be safe to return to and that there are standards in place will go a long way to easing everyone back in."


The New York Health and Essential Rights Act is the first of its kind to permanently establish workplace protections against the coronavirus, as well as future airborne outbreaks.

Credit: Creative Commons / Flickr user MTA