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October 2021

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Charlotte Pre‑Apprenticeship Shows Youth
the Power of the Trades

The saying, "If you can't see it, you can't be it," could apply to many of the young people who come through Grace-Mar's doors when it comes to choosing a career. So, Charlotte, N.C., Local 379 is helping them to "see" themselves as union electricians.

"Most of these kids don't know what they want to do just yet, so we show them a way to make a good living as an electrician," said Local 379 organizer Eddie Byrams.

Grace-Mar is a local organization that works with young people aged 16-24 who are no longer affiliated with a school. One of their programs is YouthBuild, a national program run by a grant from the Department of Labor. The pre-apprenticeship offers participants an introduction to the trades, including electrical, which is where Local 379 comes in.

"It's a pleasure working with the young adults in the Grace-Mar program," said Local 379 Business Manager Scott Thrower. "I hope our brothers and sisters inspire many of them to consider a career in the IBEW."

The relationship between the two partners began in 2019 when Grace-Mar reached out to Local 379 to help them with the program. At first it was mostly Byrams going out and talking to the youth. Now, there's a full-fledged pre-apprenticeship that comes with the chance to apply for a formal apprenticeship with Local 379.

"We give them an avenue, a way to improve themselves," Byrams said. "And it's not just electrical, it's also moral and intellectual."

The pre-apprenticeship is a six-month program that comes with a stipend, leadership training and high school credentialing among numerous other wraparound services to ensure that participants have the support they need to be successful. Those services run the gamut from resume writing and interviewing to financial counseling. Grace-Mar also offers child care, help with transportation costs and mental health counseling if needed.

"Those soft skills are essential," said Grace-Mar co-founder Grace Smith. "They come out not just with a certificate, but with a new outlook, a new brand, and a new attitude."

For a lot of Grace-Mar's participants, most of whom are people of color, the trades often just aren't on their radar.

"Seeing successful minorities is important," Byrams said. "For a lot of young people of color there's an assumption, almost like it's in the air, that the trades aren't for them."

Fortunately, that assumption is being challenged. Thanks to grant funding, Grace-Mar was able to acquire a home that needed renovating and could double as a hands-on classroom where Byrams and others gave the young men and women a taste of the trade.

"The kids loved it," said Grace-Mar co-founder Kenny Smith. "The electricians were very approachable. They didn't talk down to them, they talked to them. They brought that human aspect that says, 'I'm like you.'"

The YouthBuild program has already sent about four students to Local 379's program, Kenny Smith said, and they're not done yet.

"These are kids who like working with their hands," Kenny Smith said. "They like being in the field and sweating, not at a desk with books. They want to move and get up and go."

With the average age of an electrician only going up, recruiting young people to the trade is an important task for any local. And being in the community, being as visible as possible, is a benefit to both Grace-Mar participants as well as Local 379.

"Hopefully we'll become a household name," Byrams said.

But even if not, Byrams says working with the young participants is a reward in and of itself.

"It's an honor and a privilege to be able to teach our craft," Byrams said. "It's a true pleasure of the soul to convey my passion to these young people."

Byrams noted that Grace-Mar's mission is about education, not unlike an IBEW training program. And a lot of it comes down to what someone is exposed to, to what you know is even possible.

"It's all about exposure. The trades aren't in schools anymore and there aren't always electricians or other tradespeople in the neighborhood where these kids are growing up," Grace Smith said. "Local 379 has been a great partner for us."

Casting a wider net for apprentices is something that both Grace-Mar and Local 379 can benefit from. For Grace-Mar, the goal is to train up and send viable candidates to Local 379, and for Local 379, it gives them a younger, more diverse workforce. And of course, for the students themselves it provides an opportunity to learn a trade that can turn into an excellent career — one they can support a family on. And that creates a ripple effect throughout the community.

"We're showing individuals a different area of interest, and who knows where they'll take it," Byrams said. "The IBEW has taken me places I never thought I'd go. Maybe that will be someone else someday too."


Charlotte, N.C., Local 379 has partnered with a local organization on a pre‑apprenticeship program to bring in a younger and more diverse workforce.

Kansas City Local's Spirit of Giving
Lights Up Historic Mo. Train Station

Bosh Bruening had never worked with the IBEW on a project. But when he was looking for volunteers to help renovate a historic train station in his hometown of Higginsville, Missouri, he knew who to reach out to.

He called Kansas City Local 124, which rounded up about a dozen members to volunteer their time on June 26 — a hot, muggy, Midwestern Saturday — instead of relaxing by the pool or on a lake.

By the end of that day, the Chicago-Alton Railroad Train Depot, which once was a pickup and arrival point for passengers across the Midwest and now serves as a museum, had a glow that its builders of more than 125 years ago couldn't have imagined.

"Unions have a reputation for giving back to their communities," said Bruening, who has had a successful career in the nursery and landscape industry. "I didn't consider going anywhere else."

Even though he worked with local businesses to raise $6,000 to fund the work, Bruening said all praise should go to those Local 124 volunteers, who turned the depot into something the city of about 5,000 is especially proud of. He merely spent the day providing food, or making a run to a local hardware or electrical supply store if they needed something, he said.

"It was a special moment," he said. "The building looks great and everyone is going to have great memories. Just a wonderful day."

Bruening originally spoke with Local 124 business representatives Roger Lake and Rudy Chavez, who turned the project over to Danny Spencer, an instructor in the local's training center.

It was a perfect fit. Spencer spent nearly 30 years of his career as a general foreman running industrial jobs. He has extensive contacts with suppliers throughout the Midwest and was able to get some of them to provide equipment and supplies at lower-than-usual costs.

He also spent many years working for Union Pacific Railroad.

"I'm a train enthusiast," Spencer said. "When I got this opportunity, I just jumped on it."

There were 11 more volunteers who stepped up, including three apprentices. One of the volunteers was Jeff Bates, a 13-year Local 124 member and journeyman wireman who has lived in Higginsville his entire life. He fondly remembers trips to the depot as a child with his grandfather, a longtime railroad worker.

"I always enjoy historical projects," said Bates, who also worked on the Historic Truman Courthouse in Independence, Mo., and the original hospital building at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. "When I got a chance to work on this, with my ties to it not just because of my hometown but because of my grandpa, I knew I was going to enjoy it."

The depot was built in the winter of 1888-89. Passenger service ended many decades ago and the depot served a variety of uses since. It was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Still, it had been falling into disrepair, Bruening said.

That changed a few years ago, following the death of a 100-year-old woman who was known as the unofficial town historian, he said. Other residents found a treasure trove of historical artifacts in her home and opened the Harvey Higgins Historical Society — in recognition of the town's namesake — inside the station.

There was still plenty of work to do, however, including the installation of a modern lighting system while keeping the historical touches. That is where the volunteers from Local 124 came in.

"We had to be careful not to distort the history of the building," Spencer said. "There are a few rules when you're working on a historical structure and one is you can't drill new holes."

Even getting equipment and wiring up to the roof was difficult in a structure built in what architectural historians call the Sticky style, which was popular in late 19th-century America and emphasizes a strong vertical emphasis and sharply-pitched roofs. Bates laughed and called it one of the "filthiest" jobs he's ever worked on.

"One of the biggest challenges was a lot of the work had to be done up in the attic," Bates said. "As you can imagine, in a 100-plus-year-old building with all that dust and dirt, crawling around and installing everything in the summer was pretty hard work. It was extremely hot."

Still, they finished that evening before thunderstorms rolled in. Their work has been drawing rave reviews since. Bates got a call from his mother, who visited the station along with some of her fellow high school classmates during a recent reunion.

All were amazed by the changes, he said.

"The lights turned out great," Bates said. "They looked period perfect, like they were installed in that building back when it was built, and they are very energy efficient."

"Everyone is delighted about it," Bruening added. "It's really made an impact on the town."

Both Bates and Spencer saluted Bruening, who made sure food and drinks were provided and each of the volunteers knew how much their work was appreciated. It all made for a memorable day that none are likely to forget anytime soon — and also a reminder about the value of community service.

"It's very gratifying to work on an old building like this," Spencer said. "I'm really into old architecture. It was not just a square box. The men and women who you see working on this are the people who donate their time all the time."



Volunteers from Kansas City Local 124 helped restore a historic train depot-turned museum in Higginsville, Mo.

New England Locals Get New Contract with
Consolidated Communications

Three New England locals managed to avoid a strike and ratify a new contract with Consolidated Communications.

"It came together, finally," said Augusta, Maine, Local 2327 Business Manager Peter McLaughlin. "We were on the verge, but we managed to stop the clock."

Local 2327 was joined in negotiations by Manchester, N.H., Local 2320 and Montpelier, Vt., Local 2326, as well as Communications Workers of America Local 1400. The IBEW locals are all members of the T-9 system council, which allows them to band together when bargaining since all members work for the same company.

"We're all on the same team," said McLaughlin, who also heads the system council. "It's a very cohesive group."

Negotiations began in March and by July seemed to be heading for a strike. But that fate was averted with some stronger subcontracting and transfer-of-work language and in early August members voted overwhelmingly for the new four-year agreement.

"Nobody wants to go on strike, but we certainly will," McLaughlin said, noting that members voted overwhelmingly for the option but did not actually have to pull the trigger.

When all was said and done, 95% of the membership voted in favor of the new contract.

"They're very pleased with the agreement," McLaughlin said.

Included in the new deal, which covers roughly 900 IBEW members, are raises of 1.5% in the first year, 1.75% in the following two and 2% in the final year. Rural workers will also get an additional bump of 2% to bring them up to parity with urban workers. Previously, Consolidated put the two groups in different "zones" or categories where those outside of city centers were paid less.

"The strength of our membership, the unity within the T-9, and full support from the IBEW Second District is why we were able to negotiate a fair contract," said Local 2320 Business Manager Jim Golden. "We stood strong, and our members were united and determined to achieve a fair contract, even if we had to strike to get it done."

Part of that Second District support came from International Representative Ed Starr, who worked alongside the council to close the deal without having to go on strike, said Second District Vice President Mike Monahan.

Members also won a telework agreement for those who can and choose to do their jobs from home. In some respects, it was an extension of the temporary agreement they had because of the coronavirus.

"Members and management both like it," McLaughlin said. "The company noticed how attendance was up with telework and how well it was working overall."

While members never had to strike, they did do informational pickets and solidarity days where everyone was encouraged to wear red. Among the sign language was "nothing left to give," a nod to what members have lost over the years as the company changed hands. Before it was Consolidated it was FairPoint, and Verizon before that. And through those changes, benefits like pensions and retiree health care had become casualties.

McLaughlin says one of the strongest elements of the negotiation period was the solidarity of the membership.

"The members were ready to go and that really helped," he said. "It sends a strong message."

It's a sentiment shared by Sandra Tumosa, business manager of Local 2326.

"I credit this victory to the combined efforts of those at the table and the members who showed their support in so many ways," said Tumosa, who is also secretary-treasurer of the system council. "The members' show of solidarity made this win possible and I was reminded every day that we work with the very best in the industry."

McLaughlin noted that Consolidated is in the second year of a five-year build-out of its broadband service and that means a lot of work for members. "Our members do it all," McLaughlin said, from customer service to the build-out, to installation and repairs.

"This contract will ensure workers are compensated fairly and that customers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont receive fast, reliable, broadband internet built and installed with skilled union labor," McLaughlin said. "This is a very important victory for workers and customers after several months of tough negotiations. There's no question that the strong solidarity of the members of these four union locals brought us this critical victory."


Members of three New England locals voted overwhelmingly for a new contract with Consolidated Communications, staving off a strike.

Cincinnati Local Puts Emphasis on
Creating Opportunities for Women

In 2016, the IBEW's International Convention unanimously passed Resolution 42, urging members not only to work on bringing more women into the union's trades but also to ensure that, once they're in, they get the proper mentorship and support they need to stay on the job.

Ever since, locals all over North America have worked hard to successfully heed that convention's call, and in few places is that more evident than in Cincinnati, where Local 212 Business Manager Rick Fischer proudly reports that a growing percentage of members are women.

Fischer credits his local's success partly to the abundance of electrical work in his jurisdiction. But a bigger success story, he said, is how the efforts of Local 212's Women's Committee have brought in the new members needed to help capture that work for the IBEW.

"We have a very active Women's Committee," said Fischer, adding that it had just celebrated its second anniversary. "They're very strong."

As a result, women electricians in Cincinnati-area workplaces are growing rapidly, Fischer said, and greater representation and gender equity is making Local 212 and the entire IBEW stronger.

"Women in our local have been doing a variety of work," said Women's Committee chair Mary Jo Kenter, a fourth-year Local 212 apprentice. Jobs for women, she said, range from heavy industrial sites like the local Nucor steel plant, to the ever-increasing demand for commercial, residential and utility-scale solar installations.

But shattering outdated sex-based stereotypes about electrical workers doesn't happen overnight, said Kenter, and that's why the committee's focus is not just on bringing women into the trade but also on helping them stay in it. So far, it's been working, she said.

"Drop-outs are few among women," Kenter said, noting that when they do happen, sometimes it's because a woman might simply decide that an electrical career is not the right fit for her. In other cases, there might be personal reasons that leave open the door to a possible return.

For the latter, a light touch, such as regular but occasional check-ins, can make a huge difference, Kenter said: "I figure if I am pushing them too much, it might push them away."

Contact from committee members can come in a variety of forms, Kenter said, appropriate to the level of need. "We offer a mentorship program that lets us reach out to other sisters," via phone calls, text messages, and Facebook posts, she said.

In-person contact always works, too. For several years Women's Committee members have staffed an information booth at Cincinnati's annual Labor Day picnic. Kenter said that sort of public, personal contact helps committee members focus on reaching an extensive cross-section of women.

If Kenter sounds motivated, she comes to it honestly, she said. "I'm the daughter of a union coal miner," she said, "and before this, I worked for years for a union offset printer shop."

Her husband, Scott, is also a Local 212 journeyman wireman with more than 30 years of experience and a business agent at the local. With his enthusiastic encouragement, Mary Jo successfully applied for an apprenticeship, first into the local's teledata program before setting her sights on electrical work.

Kenter recognizes that what might have worked to bring her into the IBEW, and keep her here, might not be right for every union sister. She also understands that achieving some elusive "critical mass" of women members is not going to happen immediately. "This year, we've brought in six female apprentices," she said. "The year before, it was two."

Even so, the committee's efforts are having a decidedly positive effect, Kenter said. "What I hear from a lot of our fellow members is that what women electrical workers do is very thorough, with real craftsmanship," Kenter said. "And our brothers have been good to us, standing up for us."

Women also have made noticeable strides on the signatory contractor side of the business, Fischer said, pointing to longtime partner Paff Electric, a signatory contractor with Local 212 since it opened for business in 1986.

Now owned by Monica Williams, the small staff of electrical workers at Paff has handled an abundance of commercial and residential projects, plus a lot of LED retrofit installations in many of the Cincinnati archdiocese's churches. Her husband, Nick, also is an electrician with Local 212.

"Paff is a good fit for us," Fischer said, "and Monica takes great care of us 212'ers."

Williams publicly praises Local 212 on her company's website: "We've been able to sustain healthy growth over the past five years due to our skilled electricians and management, attention to our customer needs and my hands-on approach as an owner, just to name a few.

"We're slammed," she said, noting that one of Paff's biggest projects recently has been Solarize Cincy, a co-op pilot project that aims to get 5-14kW rooftop photovoltaic arrays installed on nearly 150 households in the city. Paff is also working on a similar Solarize project in suburban Silverton. More recently, Paff has been trying to diversify into installing EV charging stations. "They're near and dear to my heart," Williams said, "a real opportunity for us to grow."


Cincinnati Local 212's Women's Committee is paving the way for more women in the trades.