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December 2021

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The Code Is Turning an Up-and-Down Relationship
Around at This Southern Maryland Electric Co-Op

Waldorf, Md., Local 1718's relationship with the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative has had its ups and downs over the years, not dissimilar to many local utility unions. But Business Manager Rick Mattingly and others noticed the local's 270 members at SMECO were consistently getting hit hard by disciplinary issues.

Instead of direct communication between management and labor, emails were traded back and forth, and too often instead of having a conversation that could rectify the situation in a few minutes, both sides hardened their positions. Grievances were filed and bad feelings were the order of the day, Mattingly said.

But things are changing thanks in part to the Code of Excellence, which was implemented over the last three years between Local 1718 and the cooperative. Today, those miscommunications are increasingly rare, Mattingly said.

"Now, we schedule a meeting with the supervisors who are involved and anyone else who needs to be there," he said. "We schedule that meeting before we file a grievance.

"With email, you're just stating the facts. It's very factual but you can come off as a jerk without that human element. The other side can get defensive and upset as well."

The Code of Excellence is an IBEW initiative where members are accountable to themselves and one another and charged with setting the high standards that skilled union employees bring to any job. The second part of that responsibility falls on employers, who pledge to work with the union and employees and not approach issues from a starting point of mistrust. Part of doing that is developing mechanisms that deal with conflicts and issues on the job before they escalate.

The Code was originally designed for the Construction branch but has now been expanded to meet the needs of other branches, including Utility.

Mattingly was Local 1718's vice president when initial conversations began with the cooperative about a Code of Excellence. He was part of the negotiations and took over as business manager earlier this year. He credits Sonja Cox, who was promoted to SMECO's president and chief executive officer in January 2020, for making it a priority. Cox has been with the company for 22 years.

"Bringing the COE into the organization has helped to strengthen the relationship between management and the bargaining unit," Cox said. "We work together on issues to try and reach a resolution. I care about all of the employees and am pleased to see our relationship improve. I know this program will keep us on track."

Larry Neidig, an international representative in the Education Department, led 14 training classes with Local 1718 members. All SMECO employees — no matter if they were part of the bargaining unit — attended at least one class.

"The people who are involved have to actually embrace it and do the work that makes it a success," Neidig said. "I think that is what has happened here.

"The company was on board with training and getting it set up. Then COVID hit and kind of slowed it down a little bit. But Sonja is committed to making this work."

Mattingly cautions that Local 1718 still is in "baby steps" working with SMECO to ensure the Code works for both parties. But the initial signs are positive, he added.

"I feel like it is giving my stewards a little more authority," said Mattingly, who credited his predecessor, Robin Parisi, for getting the program started. "The bargaining unit employees are starting to use them more instead of going to myself or whoever. It sets the blueprint for how the chain of command works and how we're accountable to each other."

Parisi now works for SMECO as a liaison between management and labor.

"I think it just sets up a good framework for basic communication and it can work anywhere in any situation," Mattingly said. "You have levels of management on their side. You have levels of the bargaining unit on our side. With the Code of Excellence, it sets those levels and a framework on how to communicate."


Waldorf, Md., Local 1718 members at Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative are using the Code of Excellence to improve working conditions.

Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr user Southern Maryland Online.

Illinois Member Joins All-Woman Crew for
'She Build' Volunteer Project

Tina Burd, like a lot of women in the building trades, isn't used to seeing other women on a job site. So it was a bit of a culture shock when she showed up to the area's first-ever "She Build" event where everyone on the crew was a woman.

"I've never seen so many women working together," said the Peoria, Ill., Local 34 member. "The sisterhood of the day was really wonderful."

She Build's all-women crew was part of Peoria's Rebuilding Together Day where members of different building trades team up to do repairs in the community. The event, which took place on Sept. 25, included nine construction projects, on homes and community buildings. And one all-women crew.

Burd was joined by women from a multitude of other crafts including insulators, carpenters, masons, painters and more to repair the home of an older disabled couple, who had union roots of their own. The husband was a Teamster.

"It's nice to know there are so many other women in the trades out there," Burd said. "And it's great to be able to help a family in need."

For her part, Burd replaced a receptacle and two very old lights with LEDs, and updated some similarly old wiring.

"One of the lights almost fell apart in my hands," she said.

Burd, who will get her 15-year member pin this year, also helped replace a drop ceiling and pitched in on some much-needed yard work as well.

"Most of us were winging it, but we got it done," Burd said. "Everybody was laughing and having a good time. It was a really good day."

The all-women crew came about after a group of tradeswomen attended the Women Build Nations conference in Minneapolis in 2019, said Sharon Williams, who works for the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council and heads up the Union Sisters of Central Illinois, which helped put on the She Build event. Upon returning home, the women got together to create a local group to keep up the momentum of the conference and give tradeswomen a chance to get together.

"Many of these women go to work every day and never see another woman on their projects. This group has given them an opportunity to network and talk about challenges, as well as meet women from other trades," Williams said.

As for the inaugural day, which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Williams says it was a success.

"This was one of the best-run projects I have seen," Williams said. "These women know their stuff. It was great to see them working together as a team to complete these much-needed repairs."

The day went so well, in fact, that the women decided to make it an annual event, and they may even have enough women for two teams next year.

"We got tons of publicity and since the news reports ran, we've had a lot of contact from women who want to help on the next project," Williams said.

Burd and Williams both noted the added benefit of an all-women crew as a recruiting tool to bring more women into the construction industry.

"Part of bringing these women together is to promote women in the trades," Williams said. "We have several who attend events at high school career fairs just to put a face out there for girls to see. They want to promote the fact that these are great middle-class jobs with great benefits and that women can, in fact, do these jobs."

The women aren't waiting for the next Rebuilding Together Day either. Williams says they've got two other volunteer projects lined up. One involves installing new bike racks at area parks and the other is the installation of a monument for the Moffatt Cemetery Freedom and Remembrance Memorial Park.

"I have been given a wonderful opportunity to work with some amazing women in the trades," said Williams, who is a member of the Communications Workers of America and runs the building trades newspaper. "These women go to work every day to provide for their families and work in some very dangerous situations. They are highly skilled, organized and work for the betterment of the construction industry. I am proud to know every one of them."


Peoria, Ill., Local 34 member Tina Burd was part of an all-woman crew that volunteered their skills for the city's Rebuilding Together Day.

'Brotherhood Outdoors' Features
Colorado Member's First Whitetail Hunt

Brian Bradley, business manager of Colorado Springs, Colo., Local 113, was a natural choice to be featured on a recent episode of the Sportsman Channel's "Brotherhood Outdoors" program.

"I started hunting when I was old enough to walk," said Bradley, a Colorado native and the latest IBEW member to appear on the television show, which is produced by the Union Sportsmen's Alliance. The IBEW is one of the founders of the Alliance, a union-dedicated nonprofit whose members help improve public access to the outdoors, conserve wildlife habitats and educate young people in outdoor activities.

Bradley, who was initiated into Local 113 in 1998, started out hunting rabbit and other smaller animals with his father, he said, graduating to larger game such as deer when he turned 13.

"I love anything outdoors — hiking, camping, hunting, playing sports," Bradley said. He took a short break from hunting to start a family and pursue a career in electrical work but took it up again about six years ago, he said.

"I got a link to register for the show, and they contacted me for an interview," Bradley said. He lasted through three separate phone interviews, he said, as producers whittled the list of 10 prospective episode subjects down to the business manager.

Bradley's episode follows the experienced hunter as he tried his hand at bagging his first-ever whitetail deer nearly 500 miles away from home, in the Bighorn Mountain foothills of northeastern Wyoming, near the town of Buffalo.

This hunt took place during the first week of November 2020, which sadly followed an especially tough time for Bradley and his family. "The month prior, my old man passed away," he said.

Bradley was accompanied on his Wyoming adventure by a guide from Big Horn Outfitters, the hunting club where he stayed during the shoot, plus a two-person video crew from "Brotherhood Outdoors." Like most people, being followed by a camera crew was a new experience for Bradley. "It was pretty cool," he said. "Fun times."

After settling into Wyoming's rugged terrain, Bradley and his party quickly staked out locations where they could spot a potential prize and mimicked the rustling sounds that deer make to try to attract one their way. The hunt was scheduled to last for four days, but thanks to Bradley's skill, he was able to bag a large buck by Day 2.

Bradley said he was surprised to learn that his episode was about to run on the Sportsman Channel almost a year after the shoot. "I didn't really remember what I said or did," he said with a laugh.

The episode also covered Bradley's passion for conservation, noting his role in starting up the annual Colorado State Conservation Dinner, which brings union members together to raise funds to support local conservation projects and community outreach events, such as a "Take Kids Fishing" event.

"We take the money raised at the dinner and do positive things in the community with it," he said. The fifth annual dinner, which raised nearly $60,000, was held Oct. 9.

Bradley, who has served as business manager of the 1,000-plus-member Local 113 since 2017, also enjoys fishing on Monument Lake in his spare time. "It's nice up there," he said, "and my daughter can enjoy it as much as me."

You can watch how well Bradley did on his first whitetail hunt on the Union Sportsmen's Alliance YouTube channel. Learn more about "Brotherhood Outdoors" at, and check out past episodes of the program at

Get details about the Union Sportsmen's Alliance at


A recent episode of the Union Sportsmen's Alliance's "Brotherhood Outdoors" tracked Colorado Springs, Col0., Local 113 Business Manager Brian Bradley on a whitetail deer hunt in Wyoming.

Seattle Local 46 Invests in the
Next Generation of Union Leaders

Great union leaders aren't born with the skills to rally working people, fight for fair contracts or navigate the challenges that come with leading large organizations. Those skills are learned over time, and an innovative approach to developing future leaders is helping to speed up the education process at Seattle Local 46.

Since 2004, the local has put time and resources into leadership education, but after a dormant few years, the local has relaunched its leadership classes and internship program to better prepare future generations of members for the challenges of union governance and activism.

"It's greatly important that we accelerate our leadership development, because our youth are our future," said Local 46 Business Manager Sean Bagsby. "It's very important that we have the highest levels of representation available for all members, all classifications, now and into the future."

IBEW members who pursue and take on leadership roles in their locals often seek the training they need, on their own outside of the union, usually from a nearby college or institution. The missing ingredient, of course, is an IBEW perspective, something Local 46's program provides.

"I like that Sean highly believes in education," said Laura Robinson, a Local 46 business representative who, as the local's assistant educational coordinator, heads up the leadership training effort. "He really wants to get people moving through the program."

The idea for some sort of leadership development curriculum at Local 46 first emerged in 2004 under then-Business Manager Gary Price, Robinson said. "Gary felt very strongly about training replacements and leaders," Robinson said.

Shifts in leaders' priorities over the years brought a few stops and starts to the program, she said. But after his election as business manager in 2020, one of the first things Bagsby brought back was the leadership program.

From the very start, Local 46 has developed and maintained relationships with labor educators, labor historians and other experts with similar backgrounds, such as the University of Oregon's Labor Education and Resource Center and the former National Labor College and its George Meany Center in suburban Washington, D.C.

With their assistance, Robinson and her team have developed a comprehensive and IBEW-focused training course that consists of 12 topics, beginning with a review of labor unions through history. Trainers and lecturers also cover a variety of subjects, from parliamentary procedures for local meetings to negotiation fundamentals, from representation and grievance handling to economic justice and legislation, and from effective communication and ethics to trustee duties and funds.

Supplemental lectures are provided by local leaders and subject matter experts, with Robinson and Bagsby keeping a close watch on how things are going throughout the process. "Our goal is to help more members get interested in activism in their union and learn how it's all done," Robinson said.

In class, participants regularly hear stories that illustrate real-life situations, and then, during small group and breakout sessions, they further discuss what they've learned and use their newly gained knowledge in role-playing exercises.

"It's really an eye-opener," Robinson said, especially when participants get to experience how a typical negotiation might go, for example. "We want their experience [in the breakouts] to be as realistic as possible."

Open to all active members of Local 46, the leadership courses are conducted at the union's hall in Kent, with class sizes kept to a manageable 30 participants. With a membership of more than 6,000, interest in the program far out paced available spots, Robinson said, so Bagsby selected 30 to start and placed the remainder on a wait list for future opportunities.

It's from this pool of class participants that Bagsby then chooses individuals to work as Local 46 staff interns. "This gives members who have completed our leadership classes an opportunity to really learn how our local operates," he said.

In addition to their leadership class participation, Bagsby said, internship candidates also must be active on the local's committees and have working relationships with business representatives and organizers. "We're looking for a genuine desire to build our local for all our members," he said.

For example, Bagsby described one of this fall's interns, Local 46 inside wireman Wayne Horton, as "extremely" active and dedicated. Horton has served as a shop steward and organizer and has worked with several Local 46 committees. The other, residential wireman Dave Camden, has a similar breadth of committee and activist experience.

Each intern must commit to working in the local's offices for three months, spending about a month in each of the primary functions of the local: dispatch, representation and organizing. They work closely and directly with the business agents and representatives in those offices, with regular updates provided to Bagsby and Robinson.

Among those who participate in the leadership classes, "My goal is to bring as many through as possible [as interns] over the next few years," Bagsby said. "We have so many dynamic young people across our membership that we need to pull them through the business office so they can learn the intricacies of how everything works, so they can carry the baton forward for future generations."

"It really has been beneficial to developing leaders," Robinson said, adding that more than half of the local's business representatives and organizers have also attended leadership classes over the years, as well as a handful of executive board members.

Other current and future educational opportunities for members, outside of the leadership and internship programs, include advanced training for business representatives and organizers. "Even if they have experience, it never hurts for them to have a refresher," Robinson said. "It's just amazing the different perspectives people bring with them."

"This is a high priority for us," Bagsby added. "We are extremely proud of our training programs, and we think it can benefit the entire IBEW."

To learn out more about Local 46's leadership training efforts, find Business Manager Bagsby's contact information at


Labor attorney SaNni Lemonidis leads a course on building more inclusive unions for participants in Seattle Local 46's innovative leadership training program.