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May 2022

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David J. Ruhmkorff

Sixth District International Vice President David J. Ruhmkorff is retiring July 1, ending the career of a second-generation wireman who became a leader in the IBEW and his hometown of Indianapolis.

Ruhmkorff said he was planning to run for re-election at the International Convention in Chicago in May — which the Sixth District is hosting — but changed his mind one day in February.

While his wife, Ann, was visiting a daughter living in Houston, he was at home and found himself flipping through pictures of their granddaughter.

Right then, he realized he wanted to spend more time with family.

"I had a moment of clarity, I guess," he said. "I liken it to being a wireman. Sometimes, you are on that big job and could make it another 10 months or a year, but you wake up and say, 'It's time to go.'"

Ruhmkorff noted that he and Ann have two grandchildren with another on the way this summer.

"I knew I was leaving it in good hands," he said. "I appreciate everything the brotherhood has done for me. I've never known anything but the IBEW."

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson appointed Paul Noble, a Sixth District international representative and former business manager of West Frankfort, Ill., Local 702, to replace him.

"Dave Ruhmkorff has been a close friend and confidant for nearly 30 years and his commitment to the IBEW is total," said Stephenson, who appointed Ruhmkorff to replace him as Sixth District vice president when Stephenson was appointed president in 2015. "His combination of wisdom, dedication to service and well-timed humor is welcomed by everyone he's worked with.

"He's earned this retirement and I know he will still be available when we call on him. He's been a tremendous representative for the brotherhood in his beloved Indianapolis and throughout the Midwest."

The son of a journeyman wireman, Ruhmkorff attended college for one semester before deciding to follow his father into Indianapolis Local 481. He was initiated in 1979 and topped out three years later.

"I just wanted to be like my pop," Ruhmkorff said. "He raised seven kids on a wireman's salary. We all went to Catholic schools. My mom never worked. We never wanted for a lot."

As an apprentice, he regularly volunteered for Local 481 activities and for the Indiana AFL-CIO's phone banks on behalf of political candidates. He remembers then-Local 481's business manager Jerry Payne thanking him in front of a union meeting.

"I thought that's just what you did," he said. "I saw the importance of political activism at that time. I would take that back to our apprenticeship class and talk about the importance of that."

From there, Ruhmkorff served as a steward on the job and on Local 481's apprenticeship committees before then-Local 481 Business Manager Jeff Lohman — who also later served as the Sixth District vice president — brought him on staff as an organizer and business representative.

He was appointed business manager in 1989 at the age of 31 and re-elected twice more. He served on the Council on Industrial Relations, which works to solve disputes between local unions and signatory contractors, and was Finance Committee secretary at the 34th International Convention in 1991.

He joined the Sixth District office staff as an international representative in 1994, servicing locals in Indiana at first before moving to other states. In addition to Indiana, the Sixth District includes Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Ruhmkorff credits then-Vice President James P. Conway for allowing him to service non-construction locals from the start, which proved invaluable as his career progressed.

"He's very special to me," he said. "Him and [then-Secretary/Treasurer Jack F. Moore] were very good to me and helped me up the ladder. Without those two, I would probably still be twisting wire nuts on the east side of Indianapolis somewhere."

Noble, his successor, said Ruhmkorff has a special ability to put people at ease when discussing difficult subjects.

"David has a good way of talking to members and helping them understand why it's important to elect people who care about workers' rights and how that affects their lives," Noble said.

"He's been a mentor and friend of mine since 1996 but I really got to know him when he was a servicing representative. When I was business manager of Local 702, he was the person I went to when I needed anything."

Ruhmkorff plans to stay in the Indianapolis area and remain active in retirement. He is a member of the Capital Improvement Board, which oversees the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium and other venues in the city. He previously served on the Mayor's Labor Advisory Committee. He also served on the executive board for the Indiana AFL-CIO and the state's Building Trades Council.

He also plans to continue regular visits to Ireland. Ruhmkorff is Irish on his mother's side. Plus, there will be more time for his wife, daughters Mary Katherine and Colleen Celia, and their families.

Organized labor is poised for an upswing under President Biden and the infrastructure bill passed into law last year, Ruhmkorff said. He thinks it could be especially beneficial to manufacturing locals in the Midwest and will miss that.

Yet, he's confident he's departing at the right time.

"I'm at peace with the decision," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

The officers and staff thank Brother Ruhmkorff for his many years of service and wish him a happy, long retirement.


David J. Ruhmkorff

Paul A. Noble

Paul Noble, a second-generation IBEW journeyman wireman who rose to lead a large and diverse local before joining the international staff, took the helm of the Sixth District on April 1.

The International Executive Council appointed Noble to fill out the term of retiring International Vice President David Ruhmkorff.

Noble won hearty recommendations from both Ruhmkorff and International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who was heading the Sixth District when he brought Noble aboard as an international representative in 2010.

"I first met Paul in 1991 at the Illinois State Conference. I was very impressed then by how dedicated he was to his local union and to the IBEW," Stephenson said. "His business manager had just hired him as an organizer and he told me, 'This young man, this Paul Noble, he's an up and comer. He'll be running our local someday.'"

Ruhmkorff was an international representative when he met Noble, then business manager of West Frankfort, Ill., Local 702.

"Paul's just a great guy and he has the enthusiasm," Ruhmkorff said. "He's got good people skills and I think he's a natural for the job. His experience serving multiple branches of the brotherhood made him an obvious choice. He's the right age and can give it a go for quite a few years."

For Noble, whose father was a journeyman wireman out of St. Louis Local 1, the IBEW has always been family. "I've been around it my whole life," he said with pride. "The IBEW has provided food and shelter for me since I was born."

During high school, Noble worked summers as a material handler and shop boy. He went on to attend the ITT Technical Institute in St. Louis and for a short time worked as a telecom service technician at Contel in Illinois, where he was represented by Local 702.

Within nine months, he'd decided to follow his father's path and applied to Local 702 apprenticeship. He quickly became an activist.

"I would volunteer for anything," he said. "If they had a picket, I'd walk the picket line; any volunteer project, the Labor Day parade, I was always involved."

He was asked to join Local 702's staff as an organizer not long after graduating as a journeyman, giving him a hand in expanding what is one of IBEW's most sector-diverse locals.

As evidence, Stephenson pointed to the IBEW's published directory. "Take a look at the book," he said. "Local 702 has about every classification that's covered in the IBEW."

Noble said he was assigned initially to inside construction, "and then they asked me to become an organizer for the entire local — nurses, water plants, golf courses, small municipalities."

One of his missions as business manager was to ensure that the wealth of units was also Local 702's strength, and that issues were resolved collectively.

"Having everyone under one roof was to our advantage," Noble said. "Traditionally, all those groups didn't commingle, and we made a conscious effort to make them commingle."

Stephenson praised Noble's ability to do so, even while inside wiremen remained the lion's share of the nearly 5,000-member local

"As business manager, he was engaged with everyone — utility members, manufacturing groups, line clearance, it didn't matter. He was a hands-on leader and very well respected in his local," he said. "That's why when I was appointed vice president of the Sixth District, I asked Paul to come on staff."

Over the past dozen years, Noble's work has included exhaustive efforts to pass state legislation critical to IBEW members and elect candidates who have their backs.

"You try to stay out of partisanship and stick to the facts," he said. "You can look at any legislation that passes and see who supports you and who doesn't support you. Building political power to become a better advocate for our members is the sole issue."

Stephenson said Noble's "great communication skills" are one of his biggest assets, down to the basic courtesy of returning phone calls.

"If someone needs to get a hold of him, he's there," he said. "He's great at problem-solving. When someone needs help, they know they can go to Paul. I have no doubt he'll continue to thrive and to grow the district, and I know he's got the full support of the district. I think they're very excited."

As is Noble himself. "I just want to keep pushing the IBEW forward, keep building a better union," he said. "I like the direction our leadership is taking us — diversity, organizing, politics, everything."

Noble and his wife of 32 years, Gina, have two daughters, one of them an attorney and the other an accountant.

He noted that he's worked far longer in union management than he did in the field as an electrician, but that, "it just fit. I feel like you wind up where you're supposed to be, and I'm extremely happy."

The IBEW congratulates Brother Noble on his well-earned promotion after decades of service to his union.


Paul A. Noble

Brian Baker

International Representative Brian Baker has retired effective April 1.

Born and raised in Elyria, Ohio, Brother Baker began his IBEW career when he was initiated into Lorain Local 129 in 1987.

"The day I became a journeyman, it was the proudest day of my life," Baker said.

On the advice of a fellow journeyman, he got involved in his local early on, serving as a steward. Then in 1997, he was appointed business manager. Under his leadership, the local organized several new contractors, growing from 380 members to 435.

In 2007, he was appointed by then-President Edwin D. Hill to serve as an international representative in what was then known as the Political Department. Within a few months, however, he was elevated to director, just in time for the 2008 presidential election that saw Barack Obama become president.

"It was amazing to see the first Black president and know that the IBEW helped make it happen," Baker said.

As political director, he helped implement the IBEW's grassroots political mobilization plan, recruiting registrars in nearly every local to sign up voters, and strengthened the union's member-to-member networks to educate voters about working family issues.

"It was about, how do we bring other people up to our values, to give them what we already have," he said.

In 2013, Baker was appointed special executive assistant to the international officers. In that role he worked with the officers and district offices in various capacities that had him traveling to IBEW conferences and progress meetings as well as working with his assigned department directors, among numerous other duties as needed.

Baker's final role came in 2020 when he moved to the Construction Department to serve as an international representative. While there he worked on a number of issues, including project labor agreements, Davis-Bacon projects, jurisdictional disputes and grievances.

"Brian was a quiet professional who could be counted on to get the job done, no matter what he was working on," said Construction Department Director Michael Richard. "He was very detail oriented and always focused on what was best for our members in the field. He'll be missed for sure."

Baker says he's grateful to the IBEW for giving him the opportunity to represent the membership and to give them a voice. And of course, it allowed him to provide for his family.

"The IBEW has been the most important thing in my life, outside of my wife," he said.

As for what he will miss the most about his career with the IBEW, it's the people, he said, the members as well as staff.

"I worked with some really great people," Baker said. "It's like they say, one person can't do everything, but together we can get a lot done."

Regardless of his role, Baker says he's always promoted the IBEW with the goal of bringing in as many people as possible.

"Titles don't mean as much as actions," he said. "There are labor theorists and labor practitioners. Be a practitioner. Practice labor, practice what your values are."

Baker will spend his retirement back home in Ohio where he says he'll still be involved in labor and politics. He also has nine granddaughters and a grandson that he plans to spend more time with.

On behalf of the entire union membership, the officers and staff wish Brother Baker a long and healthy retirement.


Brian Baker

Kirk Brungard

After 40 years in the IBEW and the highest offices in the North American labor movement, former Director of Construction Membership Development Kirk Brungard retired from his position as Senior Special Assistant to the President of the North American Building Trades effective March 1.

Brother Brungard followed his father, 50-year member Leo Brungard, into the IBEW.

Prior to his time at NABTU, Brungard was chief of staff for then-AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer and Portland, Ore., Local 125 member Liz Shuler for seven years.

"Kirk is one of the kindest, most dedicated labor activists around. Whether it's building an organizing strategy, training activists to avoid burnout, or developing an innovative partnership to grow our movement, Kirk's contributions have been immeasurable. Working with him at the IBEW and AFL-CIO has been an absolute joy and his impact will never be forgotten," said Shuler, who was appointed AFL-CIO president last August.

Brother Brungard joined Los Angeles Local 11's apprenticeship in 1982, after a handful of "disenchanting" semesters at UCLA.

"My dad loved the IBEW and was a huge proponent of the work," Brungard said. "He suggested I sign up. That decision changed my life."

For 15 years Brungard worked with the tools on projects small and great, but usually great. The highlight, he said, was the years he spent building and then doing upgrades and maintenance at Dreamworks Studios, the first new independent film studio in Hollywood for decades.

"It was an amazing time –the animation boom — and an amazing location along the L.A. River," Brungard said. "I was there long after the project was built, hanging out with the animators and just watched how the studio was built and led. It was a remarkable experience."

He also followed his father's lead in regular attendance at local meetings where he got to know the leadership. Eventually, he was asked to be a steward. When an organizing job opened at the hall in 1998, he was encouraged to apply. He did, and Brungard wasn't just hired to be an organizer; he began his life's calling as an evangelist for organized labor.

When Brungard speaks about organizing, his language drifts out of the secular world into the vocabulary of a revival tent, though his tone is gentle, and he is not the type to bang his fist or sermonize.

"A good organizer is a fisher of men and women, spreading the good news of better wages, working conditions and a better life at work," he said. "It is tantamount to discipleship; you really do have to believe in the spirit of labor. It is more than labor laws or charters; this is fellowship."

Inevitably he apologizes for the religious language, but if there is one thing that Brungard held true to from his first day as an organizer to his last official day on the job it is his unbreakable sincerity and humility, said Assistant to the International President for Membership Development Ricky Oakland.

"He is an organizer, believer and an extraordinary communicator," Oakland said. "He is such a vital part of what membership development is today. He's like my conscience and great friend."

At Local 11, Brungard helped develop what he believes to be one of the very first IBEW/NECA Business Development programs. This is but one example, he said, of how this proud son of the West believes the Ninth District has driven innovation in the IBEW.

"People joke about it, but the crazy stuff comes from the West and some of it has been very effective," he said. "But you have to remember that we were forced to be that way because we didn't have the market share and the history, the rules and power of our brothers out East. Even in L.A., that is considered such a leader now, we had to build it up and do it differently because the old playbook wouldn't work a second time."

Brungard was elected recording secretary in 1999 and then appointed as a local union organizer in 1998. It was about that time that he first met the two people who would change the course of his life, then-International President Ed Hill and Hill's then-senior executive assistant, Shuler.

"I was assigned to be their driver at the 2000 Democratic Convention," Brungard said. "Without going into a lot of detail, I think they liked my ability to navigate some tricky situations and get them, so to speak, where they needed to go."

In 2005, Hill appointed Brungard to run the Construction Organizing Department.

It was a significant change, Brungard said. Numbers had been drifting down and organizing meetings were like "trips to the woodshed."

"Too many organizers sounded like lawyers or tough guys, and this punitive culture developed because of the lack of progress. It pained me that the enemy was usurping the high ground, attacking unions for restricting freedom. I wanted a different message: We are stronger together, we are on the side of justice, humility and equity," Brungard said. "Ed was committed enough to bring in something of a different tone."

In his five years, the falling numbers reversed. For the first time since the recession after 9/11, "A" membership began climbing.

Brungard said that when Shuler and Richard Trumka were elected in 2009 to Labor's top leadership posts, she asked him to come to the AFL for just six months. Hill wanted her to succeed and encouraged him to go.

"You don't say no to that. You do what is best for the IBEW and, for the second time, the international president is asking me to do a job," he said. "You don't say no."

At the AFL-CIO, Brungard assisted Shuler with the daily operations of seven of the administrative departments in Shuler's portfolio. It wasn't political or policy. It was accounting and facilities, the engine room that kept the organization running.

"Coming from the trades, we have an appreciation for that work. It was an opportunity to build and create excellence," he said.

Brungard served seven years at the very heights of the American labor movement.

But toward the end, he was flagging, he said. He was seeing the cost of the fervor and discipleship: burnout.

"The average organizer has a short shelf life," he said. "Discipleship is a flame."

In the "Take a handful of Advil and get back to work" ethos of the trades, burnout was not something many people wanted to talk about, let alone respect.

"It's not usually something that gets talked about in the building trades," he said. "But if we want to bring attention to the righteousness of the work of the organizer, we have to take seriously that it can be hard to put health and family first. We needed to know more."

Brungard began an investigation into burnout through the Building Trades Academy at Michigan State University, where he has been a teacher. A decade later, Brungard still regularly speaks about the costs of burnout and is a frequent speaker at other craft meetings and conventions.

"That says a lot about Kirk. It's not like the Bricklayers are asking me to speak," Oakland said with a laugh.

In 2016, Brungard left Shuler's side to take on a series of senior roles at the North American Building Trades council, including running the Baltimore-Washington office and later leading the Canadian building trades through an unexpected vacancy at the top.

Brungard coordinated the search for his replacement. He said, in his vision — which he credits learning from Shuler — you lead by listening and putting other people in positions where they can be powerful.

"It's impossible to get to this point in one's own story without an alarming but fulfilling recognition of one's own insignificance and so much gratitude for what the people around me have contributed to my journey," he said. "I do believe our movement is righteous and the stars are aligning for us to take incredible strides. The labor movement in 40 years will look dramatically different but still steeped in these core beliefs."


Kirk Brungard

Dennis Phelps

The officers are saddened to report that retired Government Employees Director Dennis Phelps died Feb. 23.

Brother Phelps was born in 1951 in Charles County, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb. As a child, he overcame paralysis from polio and went on not only to play competitive sports but also to join the Boy Scouts and rise to the rank of Eagle Scout.

After graduating from La Plata High School, Phelps attended Saint Leo University in Florida before returning to the national capital area, where in 1970 he was initiated into Washington Local 26 as a residential apprentice.

Within a few years of topping out, Phelps found steady work as an electrician for D.C.'s St. Elizabeth's Hospital. An eventual move to work for the U.S. Government Printing Office, though, necessitated a transfer of membership to Washington Local 121. Within just six months there, Phelps quickly began serving his fellow members as the local's chief shop steward.

Current Local 121 Business Manager Bill Blevins knew Phelps for many years. "Dennis was the most hardheaded of anyone I ever met," Blevins said, admiringly. "When he wanted something, he went after it. It was a passion for him."

In 1990, Phelps was elected president and business manager of Local 121, which by then had expanded to represent members at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, one of a small number of government employers that allow employees to bargain for wages separately from the federal government's General Services Administration classifications.

"For Local 121 to survive, Dennis knew what we had to do," Blevins said.

Getting the federal government to allow Local 121 members to bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions — a "special status" with the federal government — was something for which Phelps had to constantly fight. Otherwise, these specially-skilled workers could easily be lured away by more lucrative, private-sector work.

"We had to negotiate wages regularly, about every five years," Blevins said.

One particularly brutal battle was Local 121's multi-year, and ultimately successful, court fight to defend the collective-bargaining rights of workers at the Bureau of Engraving. This was quite difficult under Ronald Reagan's administration — already notorious for firing striking air traffic controllers in 1981 — that was bent on forcing bureau workers to follow the federal GSA's wage-and-benefits model. After years in the courts followed by more years of negotiations, bureau workers achieved their first wage agreement in 1998.

"If we couldn't negotiate, we would've been paid a lot less," Phelps told the Electrical Worker in 2017. "When I was there, we kept wages within $1 of Local 26 rates, and with benefits."

As Local 121's leader, Phelps also lobbied on Capitol Hill against privatizing work at the Government Printing Office, publishers of the daily Congressional Record and the Federal Register.

In 2007, then-International President Edwin D. Hill appointed Phelps an international representative assigned to the Government Employees Department, a move Phelps described as "very rewarding."

"I thought I could use my expertise with government laws to support more members than just those at my local," Phelps said in 2017.

Tens of thousands of IBEW members in the U.S. and Canada are government employees working for federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy and Interior and on shipyards, navigational locks and dams and power generating plants.

Later appointed the department's director, Phelps helped guide the move of electricians employed by the Architect of the Capitol and by the National Institute of Standards and Technology from Local 26's jurisdiction into Local 121's. "Dennis really helped that along," Blevins said.

Phelps also represented the IBEW in the United Defense Workers Coalition and the Federal Workers Alliance, and he served as secretary-treasurer for the Maryland AFL-CIO executive committee.

Additionally, Phelps was as an alternate delegate on the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee, a member of the Department of Labor's Federal Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, and an alternate member of the Department of Defense's wage-setting committee.

For four years, Phelps also served on the board of directors of Jude House, a substance abuse recovery program, including two years as president. Active in Charles County politics, Phelps served for eight years, two as chair, on the county's Democratic Central Committee, helping candidates at various levels win their elections — including the 1981 campaign of Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who now serves as the House Majority Leader.

"Whenever Dennis took on a fight, I don't think I ever saw him go in halfway," Blevins said.

"Devoted civil servants who go in and do their job don't deserve to be bad-mouthed," Phelps said in 2017. "Let them be good civil servants and pay them fairly."

Phelps was preceded in death by his father and first wife, Mary Frances Shlagel. He is survived by his mother; his wife, Yong; and a large family that includes six siblings, five children, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

The officers and staff of the IBEW send their deepest condolences to Brother Phelps's family and friends.


Dennis Phelps

Mary N. O'Brien

Mary Nell O'Brien, an IBEW trailblazer and activist who broke barriers in her native Mississippi and at the International Office in Washington, died March 19 at the age of 76.

Sister O'Brien began her long and extraordinary career in labor in the late 1960s when she worked to organize the Presto Manufacturing plant where she worked in Jackson, Miss., assembling pressure cookers for Sunbeam and Sears. Hired as a line assembler in August 1965, her very employment presented enormous challenges. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had only just banned discrimination in the workplace, and Mississippi was among the most hostile places in the U.S. for women of color, especially in nontraditional occupations like manufacturing.

But O'Brien had a vision for how a workplace could operate, and with her co-workers, she formed a union and founded Jackson Local 2262 in 1970. She served as the local's founding financial secretary and as a member of the Negotiating Committee and numerous times as a delegate to the Mississippi AFL-CIO Convention and the Mississippi Electrical Workers Association.

O'Brien didn't waste time seeking to create change in her new union home. At the 1974 International Convention in Kansas City, Mo., she and a small group of like-minded delegates noted that in a room of 3,000-some delegates fewer than 100 were Black.

"We didn't think that was right," said Robbie Sparks, the former business manager of Atlanta Local 2127, who with O'Brien and others, founded the IBEW Minority Caucus following that convention. The group would later grow into what is today the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus.

"Mary was very loyal to the IBEW, but she wanted very badly for it to live up to its potential and to be a place that welcomed people no matter what the color of their skin or who they knew," Sparks said.

In 1978, Sister O'Brien was appointed an international representative assigned to the Manufacturing Department at the International Office. She was the first Black woman to serve as an international representative in the union's history, and as such, she was a symbol whether she intended to be or not.

"It was great to see a person who looked like Mary as an international rep," Sparks said. "But she also used her platform to push for change for the next 20 years."

Among her most passionate causes was her belief that success in the IBEW should be based on merit rather than who a person knew. And she dedicated much of the next two decades to ensuring that young minority trade unionists had the training and opportunities to be successful.

Through organizations like the A. Philip Randolph Institute for African-American trade unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and the Opportunities Industrialization Center, she rarely said no to service on executive boards and committees and regularly taught training workshops for young labor activists.

Sister O'Brien came to Washington, but she never lost sight of what she'd faced at home in Mississippi, not just as a labor leader but as a young Black person fighting for causes she believed in.

In a 2012 interview with the Electrical Worker, O'Brien recalled attending meetings with Claude Ramsey, the white leader of the Mississippi AFL-CIO, where she had to lie down in the back seat of his car to avoid being seen and drawing white supremacist violence.

She believed that voting rights and labor rights were intertwined, especially in the South, and fought powerfully to ensure that members of her community were not denied either.

"I can't believe some people today are so nonchalant about their voting rights," she said at the time, recalling being accompanied by a federal marshal to register to vote in the 1960s.

That experience registering voters, educating them on the issues and getting them to polls, often under threats of violence and intimidation, molded her into the powerful advocate she became, both within the IBEW and in the labor movement as a whole.

"Mary was a thoughtful and friendly woman who always had a smile and a positive attitude," said Royetta Sanford, a member of Los Angeles Local 18 who served as the first Black director at the International Office. "I will always remember Mary as a courageous, brave and dedicated sister who strove on so many levels to improve the lives of workers, particularly people of color and women."

In her role in the Manufacturing Department, O'Brien coordinated collective bargaining agreements with national employers that had contracts with multiple local unions and served on the Documentation/Assessment Committee of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council.

"Her background says it all," Sanford said. "In her early adult years, as a fledgling union leader, she fought for the rights of workers in her home state of Mississippi. She left home and all she knew and loved to work in Washington, D.C., in an organization that did not fully appreciate or respect people of color. She worked diligently through the years as an international rep and her dedication and service helped to change the face of the IBEW."

The officers and staff extend their heartfelt condolences to Sister O'Brien's husband, Hank, and son, Edgar, and thank them for sharing her with us for so long. Her impact went far beyond the duties of her job assignment; she pushed the union she loved to do better for all of its members and to live up to its loftiest ideals, and we are grateful for her contribution.


Mary N. O'Brien

Clif Davis

International Representative Clif Davis retired from his post in the Business Development Department effective April 1, ending a distinguished career of more three decades, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

Brother Davis took a longer path to becoming an inside journeyman wireman than most. He was a newspaper carrier in his Portland, Ore., neighborhood for much of his childhood. After high school graduation, he followed his father into the grocery business, where he was a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers briefly before moving into management for Fred Meyer, a chain of supermarkets on the West Coast. He worked there for 12 years, followed by a three-year stint at Frito-Lay.

Then, in 1988, Davis saw an advertisement in the Oregonian, the newspaper he delivered as a child, announcing Portland Local 48 was accepting applications for apprentices. Davis, an amateur mechanic who already was renovating old cars, decided to apply.

"I could see with my education level and background, the opportunities at Frito-Lay, even though it was a great company, were somewhat limited," he said.

He received a response a few weeks afterwards. Davis was the last person selected in the 68-member class, he said.

"I was not afraid of work," he said. "Never have been. That's what got me through the [apprenticeship] interview."

Davis earned an associate degree from Portland Community College during his apprenticeship because he thought it would help meet his goal of being a project manager more quickly. He was working as a general foreman for Christenson Electric not long after topping out in 1993.

Retired Local 48 member Dennis Bailey, the first journeyman Davis worked under as an apprentice, said his aptitude for repairing cars helped him quickly adapt to being an electrician. So did a willingness to listen to more experienced members and asking good questions.

"He was a foreman on quite a few jobs," Bailey said. "He understands things, he's decent to talk to and he doesn't get riled up. He's pretty smooth about everything he does."

Davis later became an instructor at Local 48's training center, teaching night classes while continuing to work in the field. In 1996, he joined the staff full-time as an organizer and became a business representative in 2001. Davis said he was reluctant step away from jobsites but he quickly learned he enjoyed negotiating contracts.

In 2007, he won a contested election to become business manager.

"From the day I started my campaign, I made it clear that I believe in cooperation with our contractors," Davis said. "You're there to represent the members and fight for the best deal, but those relationships had gone from amicable to non-existent. It was hurting our members and we had to address that."

Davis, in turn, found that some of the sales techniques he learned in his earlier jobs paid off in his role as business manager, especially when the economy cratered in 2008.

"I advertised for the local, I got us on radio, I did everything I could possibly do going back to my retail and sales experience to let the membership know we were doing everything we can to help them," he said.

Davis was re-elected in 2010 and was preparing to run for another term in 2013 when then-International President Edwin D. Hill asked him to join the Business Development Department. He was hesitant at first because Local 48 was coming out of the recession and preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

But in the end, he was intrigued at joining a new, nationwide initiative designed to ensure customers that IBEW members and signatory contractors were the right choice. Davis represented the Ninth District, which includes Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii.

"There's an understanding among the districts and the business development group that what happens in Tennessee can impact a relationship in Portland or anywhere else," Davis said. "Relationships are not just a local issue. They are broad and they are nationwide. Our group of 10, 11 or 12 people is constantly communicating across the United States."

Business Development Director Ray Kasmark, who joined the department at the same time, called Davis "Mr. Reliable."

"If you need something, you don't have to worry about it. You put Clif on it," he said.

Kasmark said he will especially remember Davis' persistence, a trait he likely learned in his life before the IBEW and also working as an organizer.

"You can't be afraid of hearing no," Kasmark said. "You usually don't sell something on the first try. You can't be afraid to go back to the well and make another run at it and Clif never was afraid."

In retirement, Davis plans to spend more time with his wife, Theresa; his five children, including son Troy, who also is a Local 48 member and works as a journeyman foreman for EC Electric; and six grandchildren. Geoff Barry, his son-in-law, also is a Local 48 member.

The officers and staff thank Brother Davis for his many years of service and wish him a long and happy retirement.


Clif Davis

Brian Heins

Eleventh District Organizing Coordinator Brian Heins, a longtime leader in Professional and Industrial Organizing retired May 1.

"He's always the smart guy in the group," P&I Director of Organizing Jammi Ouellette said of the man known among his peers as "The Professor." "Brian is very analytical. You look at him and you can see the wheels turning.

"He's a thinker. If you want to learn something, you call on The Professor."

A native of Postville, Iowa, in the far northeast corner of the state, Brother Heins moved to Cedar Rapids, about 85 miles south, shortly after getting married. In 1990, he was hired by avionics manufacturer Rockwell Collins, where he became a member of Coralville, Iowa, Local 1634 the following year.

It was a perfect fit for Heins, who learned the value of unions and dignity on the job while growing up from his grandfather, a member of the meatpacker's union.

"I had worked nonunion jobs as a very young man and I didn't like how the employer treated us employees," he said. "I've always had an empathy for people who weren't treated well on the job. It costs nothing to treat people well, even if the pay and benefits are not great."

Heins' assignment at Rockwell Collins was to help build radio technology. He wasted no time in getting involved in Local 1634, volunteering to work on the local's newsletter during his first year of membership.

"Anything that I could do to make the union stronger and more active in the community, I would do it," he said. "As often as I could, I would take the family and we would do those things together, whether it was going to Labor Day picnics or taking them to the picket line when other unions were on strike."

Other opportunities followed. He went on to serve as a safety representative, steward and vice president. He was appointed business manager to fill an unexpired term in 2002 and was re-elected without opposition in 2004.

In 2007, he accepted a position to join the Membership Development department as a lead organizer and was promoted to regional coordinator in 2010. The Eleventh District consists of Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

"A lot of times, you would get a call from someone wanting to organize and you would have that first meeting with a handful of employees," said Per Capita Director Louis Spencer, a former Eleventh District organizer who worked closely with Heins before moving to the International Office in Washington, D.C. "Brian has the ability to read people's body language when you are in that room with them. He could read if it was going to be a potentially successful campaign, or it was just one person's grievances."

Spencer added that he "tries to use [Heins'] leadership style in my current position. He does a good job of reading everyone's personality and treats everyone with dignity and respect."

Heins has been involved in several successful campaigns during the last 20 years, including one that led to IBEW membership for nearly 300 municipal workers in Springfield, Mo., in 2015.

But a personal highlight was the successful organization effort of 1,400 BGE employees in 2017, which led to the creation of Baltimore Local 410. The drive took nearly two decades and Heins was one of many organizers called in from around the country to assist.

"I was fortunate enough to play a small part in that and it was just amazing," he said. "It's a textbook case of the IBEW at its best.

"There's a lot of wins and losses over the years, but what I take from it was the team environment. The house calling, hand billing and everything in the field an organizer has to do. Brothers and sisters out working toward the same goal is what I'll always take from my career."

In retirement, Heins plans to keep his home in Cedar Rapids and spend more time with his wife, Ivy, and adult sons, Michael and Nicholas. He also hopes to spend more time gardening, one of his favorite hobbies, and to volunteer with the IBEW and other unions when there is a need.

"Brian is a dedicated brother to the IBEW," Ouellette said. "He's a great leader who always leads by example. He's always a pleasure and anytime you get in the trenches with him, it's a good thing."

The officers and staff thank Brother Heins for his many years of service and wish him and his family a long and happy retirement.


Brian Heins

Tony Maghrak

Tony Maghrak, a Sixth District international representative who spent the past 12 years working with locals in Minnesota and its border regions, has retired after more than four decades with the IBEW.

A native of Minneapolis, Maghrak spent up to four days at a time on the road traveling his state and "bouncing into the Dakotas, and a little overlap in Wisconsin," mainly servicing inside construction locals.

"Tony is a kind and decent man whose experience as a training director and business manager gave him a keen insight into the administration of a local union," said former Sixth District International Vice President David Ruhmkorff, now serving as a special assistant to the international president. "His attention to detail made my job easy when it came to making decisions on local union issues."

Growing up, Maghrak had an aptitude for craftsmanship and soared through his high school's industrial arts programs. By his senior year, he said he was assisting his teacher in drafting, electronics and woodworking classes.

He loved woodworking above all and dreamed of an apprenticeship in Europe after graduating. But with a dozen siblings, his family's budget only stretched so far.

In hindsight, there were signs pointing to his future career, Maghrak said, recalling two dramatic events.

Around age 9, he was stunned by flashes of pink and white when his father got up on an aluminum ladder after an electrical fire in their home's basement. "My dad was going to clean up some dead wires after the fire and he almost electrocuted himself," he said.

He experienced that for himself as a teenager while making mischief with his buddies. Climbing to the roof of a hardware store to lob snowballs at buses, a jolt of electricity shot through him when he grabbed the shroud of an exhaust fan and an icy metal gutter. For a scary moment, "I was stuck. I couldn't let go.

"I have great respect for electricity," he said with a laugh. But he didn't see a career path until his father asked what was going to do after his hopes for Europe fell through.

"I said I wanted to do something that's going to be around for a while. He said, 'Look up at the ceiling. See those light fixtures? Look over at the wall. See those light switches? There's always going to be electricity,'" Maghrak said. "My dad passed away shortly after that."

He set his sights on a technical school's electrical program. Despite a two-year wait list, he lucked into an opening and was able to ditch his second choice, radio and TV repair. Soon he and his classmates were getting pitches from the IBEW.

He liked what he heard, but figured the odds were against him. Another vocational school in town was more prestigious, and he had no family legacy in the trades. But he made his case and started his Local 292 apprenticeship in September 1980.

At union meetings, he gained a reputation as a gadfly. "I wasn't belligerent, but I'd go up to the mic and say, 'Why are we doing that this way, why couldn't we do it that way?'"

Eventually, local leaders put him to work as the recording secretary, appointed him to unexpired terms on the executive board and ultimately named him training director, a position he held for 13 years.

He excelled at it, said Local 292 Business Manager Jeff Heimerl, who was one of his apprentices and later a staff representative — a hire Maghrak made right after defeating Heimerl and three others to become business manager in 2008.

"Working for Tony was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot from him," he said. "He analyzes everything and always made thoughtful and calculated decisions benefiting members."

He had the same approach as a service representative, Heimerl said, calling him "an educator at heart."

"Whenever I had a question, Tony was always there," he said. "One of the ways he did that was often answering my questions with more questions, forcing me to take a deeper dive into the subject matter of my inquiry."

Maghrak took the job with barely a week's notice after a May 2010 call from the late International President Ed Hill. "I was in negotiations for our main inside agreement and I asked him if I could start July 1 instead of June 1. He said, 'What part of June 1 don't you understand?'"

Whether a long trek at least once a month to his state's northern regions or a shorter hop to urban locals, he said it was deeply satisfying being able to help members and locals. Sometimes he still does. "As I ease into retirement, I still get the odd call here and there seeking advice, and I'm happy to help," he said.

Maghrak and his wife, Sandra, have two sons and a daughter. In addition to more family time, retirement means freedom to dive back into his hobbies, especially woodworking. This spring he said he was building a large shed to house his work room.

The IBEW thanks brother Maghrak for his years of dedicated service and wishes him a long and happy retirement.


Tony Maghrak