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September 2021

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Ohio Local Lights Up Baseball's Historic Handshake

The "handshake for the century" has a new statue in Youngstown, Ohio, and Local 64 members helped make it happen.

When baseball legend Jackie Robinson hit a home run in his debut minor league game with the Montreal Royals in 1946, he prompted what ESPN called "a simple act of decency" — a handshake from his white teammate George "Shotgun" Shuba. While that might not sound like much today, it was nothing short of historic 75 years ago. The next year, Robinson broke the color barrier by becoming major league baseball's first Black player. In this pre-Civil Rights era, interracial handshakes simply didn't happen — until George Shuba made it happen when he reached out his hand to congratulate his teammate and Robinson accepted it, both of them smiling.

"It was a huge moment at the time," said Local 64 Business Manager Jim Burgham. "With everything going on in the country right now, that handshake still carries a lot of meaning."

That game took place in New Jersey, but it's Shuba's hometown of Youngstown that commissioned the seven-foot-tall bronze statue, unveiled on July 17, to commemorate the moment that changed baseball forever. And Local 64 members, working for signatory contractor Dan Santon, installed the lights, including four pole lights to highlight the statue from above and linear LED lighting at the base to provide light from below. Over 30 LED lights were also installed in the face of the concrete seating area surrounding the sculpture.

Those seats are something that Shuba's son Mike said were important to him, so children would have a place to sit on future field trips to learn about their hometown hero.

"The grounds are absolutely incredible. It's one of the nicest areas for teaching children that we're all on the same team in life," Mike Shuba said. "My dad always said that he didn't care if Jackie was technicolor, he was on our team."

Local 64 members also installed LED lights to highlight the names of those who provided funding or in-kind donations.

"It's definitely something we wanted to be involved in," Burgham said. "It's going to be there for a long time and we wanted do our part."

When Santon first heard of the project, he brought it to the Labor Management Cooperative Committee and they agreed to help fund it through a grant as well as with donated materials and labor. All told, the LMCC gave around $50,000 to the effort, which cost around $400,000 total.

"The LMCC likes to do things like this. We're kind of proud of that," Santon said. "Plus, we didn't want the work to be nonunion. Not for something like this."

The statue's unveiling, which was originally scheduled for April but got postponed due to the coronavirus, was part of the Youngstown State University's Festival of the Arts and now sits in Wean Park in the city's downtown area.

"It was a nice ceremony," said Santon, who attended on the rainy Saturday. "It was quite reflective."

Santon grew up in the same town as the Shubas. He remembers when George played, but realized that the younger generations may not and he didn't want that part of his neighbor's legacy lost to history.

"I remember Mike telling me that his dad took all his mementos from his years of playing and put them in two Maytag washing machine boxes. All except for one — the photo of the handshake. That one he kept framed on the wall." Santon said. "That's the kind of person George was."

For Santon and many others in Youngstown, Shuba's gesture that day embodies some of the best of their town.

"Everyone else did not do it. He stood up because that's the way he was raised in the city of Youngstown," said Mayor Jamael Tito Brown.

The statue, which was cast in Brooklyn in the same place as the Iwo Jima memorial, is the eighth one of Robinson and the only piece to feature another person with the baseball great, Brown said.

"It's nice to be part of a memorial to something so historic, and ultimately about doing what is right," Burgham said.

That so many people helped make the statue a reality is not lost on the younger Shuba.

"It's quite amazing to see all these people coming together. It was a real team effort," he said. "And it's gratifying to know that it'll carry on long after we're gone."


Youngstown, Ohio, Local 64 members lit up a new statue commemorating the historic handshake between baseball players Jackie Robinson and George Shuba.

Credit: Mike Shuba

With Help from VEEP, Wisconsin Local
Provides an Opportunity for Military Veterans

Courtney Tillman envisioned a life of travel while growing up in northeastern Ohio, especially when she found how much she enjoyed studying foreign languages. She also saw an older sister dealing with college debt, so after graduation, she decided to enlist in the Navy.

Twenty-two years later, in 2019, then-Chief Petty Officer Tillman was nearing retirement and looking to begin life as a civilian along with her husband, Christian, and their three children. She wanted to do something with her hands and performed electrical work aboard ships for years.

Tillman found several organizations designed to help veterans make the transition to civilian life but one stood out: the Veterans Electrical Entry Program, commonly called VEEP, designed by the Electrical Training ALLIANCE with substantial support from Milwaukee Tool. That proved especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, when VEEP continued to support her while she seldom left the ship she was assigned to, Tillman said.

"They walked me through step by step," said Tillman, one of 49 veterans nationwide who have completed the program in its three years of existence. "They were great. They were always there when I had issues or a question about training."

Once accepted, VEEP participants take part in a seven-week pre-apprenticeship program that helps them determine if they are a good fit for the electrical industry. Tillman, who settled in Beloit, Wis., following her discharge, was honored in a ceremony in late June along with two other veterans — Raymond "Jay" Droessler and Jackson Wildes — who also successfully completed the program and now are apprentices at Madison, Wis., Local 159.

The ceremony drew local media attention, with reports by two Madison television stations. Sixth District Vice President David J. Ruhmkorff attended and was joined by Joshua Johnson, the director of the Wisconsin Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards.

"We had our first VEEP candidate come in two years ago and he really set the bar high," Local 159 Business Manager Sue Blue said in reference to Droessler, a retired Army major. "He's been a really good example of how this can be a successful program for a local union and an individual making that transition from the military to private life. We are happy to offer this opportunity and for the three individuals who have chosen our local."

The program also is designed to meet the skilled labor shortage and is supported by the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association.

"Everybody involved is passionate about what we're doing," said the ALLIANCE'S Greg McMurphy, who oversees the VEEP program.

Added Ruhmkorff: "The IBEW has a long history of supporting those who served our country and the VEEP program has only made that stronger. It's taken a lot of work by so many people, but it's paying off. It was a great feeling to celebrate our success in Madison and I look forward to many more celebrations."

Several local unions have participated in the program but Local 159 has become something of a hotbed for several reasons. To begin with, there have been many qualified applicants who wanted to make Wisconsin home after their military careers ended.

Wildes, a retired Marine Corps sergeant, and Droessler both grew up in the state. Tillman grew up near Akron, Ohio, but she and her husband — another military veteran who loves snow, despite growing up Louisiana — thought it would be a good place to raise a family and she had friends in the area.

Local 159 Training Director Jim Cook said the size of the jurisdiction helps, too. It operates nine training centers throughout the state. Milwaukee's 494 is the only other inside local that has its own training center in Wisconsin.

But the most important reason for its growth is that several interested parties — including Cook himself — overcame their initial reservations, he said. For instance, many signatory contractors rely heavily on construction wiremen — commonly called CWs. They are workers who have not been accepted into an apprenticeship but are paid at a lower rate and can complete some lower-level electrical work.

Many contractors were reluctant to give a direct-entry spot to an apprenticeship to anyone, even a veteran, if it came at the expense of a qualified CW who had spent time on a jobsite. Cook said they agreed to give it a try out of respect for the military and when it was assured the ALLIANCE already was vetting the VEEP applicants.

"The IBEW is proud of the VEEP program and justifiably so," Cook said. "But what makes it go really are the NECA contractors willing to give up those spots to a direct-entry program. It's a great feeder program. The best I've ever seen. They are doing electrical work and getting to know if they want to do that as a career."

McMurphy has also seen a change among management regarding the program. He saluted the signatory contractors for doing so.

"People are sometimes averse to change," he said. "They wanted to see what would happen with one person and it worked out.

"Now, they've bought into it. They were willing to work with some changes, accept that perceived risk, and they found out it was really manageable and not much of a risk."

VEEP utilizes resources throughout the brotherhood. Wildes and Droessler, for instance, took part in pre-apprenticeship training in Alaska while still on active duty through Anchorage Local 1547 and the Alaska Joint Apprenticeship and Training Trust.

Tillman, on the other hand, seldom could leave the ship she was assigned to during the pandemic and became one of the first VEEP applicants to take part in virtual training.

"I just hope [my experience] gives the public more knowledge about how to get a career when you leave the military, especially if you don't want to get stuck at a desk," she said. "If you want to get out in the community and do something with your hands, this is a great path to choose."

Wildes has planned to be an electrician for several years. His father is a member of Janesville, Wis., Local 890 and several other family members have worked in the trades. One of his responsibilities while serving in the Marine Corps was performing maintenance on airfield lighting around the world.

"I always thought it would be really cool to understand how all that worked," he said.

VEEP made the transition to that much easier, he said. Instead of being on his own, he had McMurphy and others to mentor him through the process. And, like many veterans, Wildes found many of the skills he learned in the military transferred to construction.

"You're with the same group of people in the military working and grinding every day," he said. "It's very similar to what I'm doing now.

"In the military, some people call it mass punishment. Others say you win as a team, you die as a team. Whatever you call it, you really learn to work well with others. The work is a collective mission to get the job done."

Droessler, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, is honored to have been Local 159's first VEEP graduate but he's also pleased that it's followed up with another graduate in each of the last two years — first Wildes, who was followed by Tillman. He credits VEEP for making it easier to return to his home state and get the apprenticeship application process while on active duty before his discharge.

"When you're working in an insanely hot part of a building and tension is running high, maybe a veteran has the temperament to deal with that," he said. "A bad day as an electrician is 50 times better than a bad day in the military. That stoicism, that get-her-done attitude really helps on a jobsite."


Madison, Wis., Local 159 apprentices Jackson Wildes, Courtney Tillman and Jay Droessler (front row) were honored following graduation from the VEEP program.

Study Shows Benefits of Labor-Pharma Relationship

A new study from the Pharmaceutical Industry Labor-Management Association shows how investment in the crucial work of the biotech and pharmaceutical industries is related to a strong, skilled workforce in the building trades.

"The impact of this partnership has only grown over the years," said Director of Business Development Ray Kasmark, who also serves as an IBEW union trustee on PILMA's board. "Labor and industry recognize the strength in this relationship, that strong industry naturally leads to good jobs and a vibrant economy — and life-saving vaccines."

The rapid and successful development of vaccines to save lives from the coronavirus is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the nation's scientific community. But it couldn't have been done without the state-of-the-art facilities, laboratories and manufacturing plants built by the women and men of the building trades.

PILMA's study looks at this as well as other benefits like community investment, job creation and the funding of pensions and health care in 14 states throughout the U.S. Among its findings is that there were 447 major (those costing $5 million or more) pharmaceutical and biotech projects that were privately funded and under construction between 2015 and 2020. These projects represent a combined $23.6 billion in infrastructure investment by the industry.

While 2020 saw many out of work, the opposite tended to be true for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries as the country weathered the coronavirus pandemic. Assuming a standard work week, the data suggests that projects in these fields employed 6,157 full-time construction workers last year and paid at least $774 million in wages. The study noted that these numbers don't reflect additional benefits like the tens of millions of dollars in health insurance and pension contributions, or the indirect benefits to a region from increased spending in the community, known as the multiplier effect.

In Michigan, one of the states in the study and home to a Pfizer facility in Kalamazoo, the report found that the state's building trades helped drive over $1 billion in investment on major construction projects. During that same time period, union worker earnings reached more than $25 million, representing more than 906,000 hours of work in addition to significant funding for union health insurance and pension benefits.

"A research study such as this highlights the opportunities our members have in this industry to train and employ current and future electricians," said Kalamazoo Local 131 Business Manager Brian O'Donnell. "Given the large number of working hours the IBEW has on these projects, securing resources and expanding this industry will no doubt benefit other locals across the state.

"As Michigan looks to diversify its economy, the biopharmaceutical industry — and the skilled union craft workers employed by the industry — help create that growing economic engine. Our members are proud of the work they provided to help bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic by working on the facilities that discovered and developed the vaccine."

The industry relies on the skills, training and work ethic of IBEW members from the first ground broken to wiring the labs that create the tests, vaccines and more. In fact, the study showed that electricians worked more hours by far than any other trade classification, with 18.5 million logged. The next closest trade had less than 10 million hours.

Kasmark says that's because the nature of these projects requires an extensive amount of electrical infrastructure to support the production and packaging of pharmaceutical products. There are multiple and redundant power systems and highly sophisticated process control systems that require electrical and instrument technician skills to install, commission and maintain.

"There is absolutely no room for error, so it has to be done right the first time, every time. That's why they use IBEW," Kasmark said.

Much of the work in PILMA's report is being done on the East and West coasts. The greater Boston area in particular has become a hub, said Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis.

"We have thousands of members working in this sector," Antonellis said. "It speaks to the quality of IBEW craftsmanship needed to build the highly technical facilities and clean rooms needed for the research and development of the life-saving drugs we're benefiting from today."

While not all pharmaceutical construction is done by union hands, organizations like PILMA are providing a platform for increased relationship building, which can create more job opportunities, Kasmark said.

"Through PILMA we're working towards the goal of proving our value and all that we bring to the table," Kasmark said. "PILMA provides us an opportunity to demonstrate why the best science should be done in the best facilities and built by the best tradespeople."

Kasmark also noted that the high-quality work of the IBEW and other trades has likely helped to keep much of the work on U.S. soil.

"We should all be extremely grateful that our domestic U.S. pharmaceutical industry did not 'offshore' the majority of their production facilities over the past decades as others have," Kasmark said. "Imagine if the COVID-19 vaccine was as scarce today as semiconductor chips are."

The PILMA partnership also extends to areas like lobbying for legislation and regulations that benefit both parties. Sometimes it's letters of support or opposition for legislation, like pharma supporting Davis-Bacon, which assures union-level pay on government projects, and opposing the problematic IRAP program that would have compromised union apprenticeships. Additionally, the building trades have supported the pharmaceutical industry on drug pricing and intellectual property issues.

The study was conducted by the Institute for Construction Economic Research, a non-partisan network of academic researchers whose goal is to find pragmatic solutions to workplace and labor market issues in the construction industry.


A new study shows the benefits of a strong partnership between the biotech and pharmaceutical industries and the building trades, including much of the work done to create the COVID-19 vaccine.