The Electrical Worker online
August 2022

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
James Conway

James Conway, a trailblazer who helmed the IBEW's Sixth District and lived every day of his 95 years with exuberance, died May 11.

"We have lost the kindest man on earth," his family said in his obituary, a sentiment echoed by colleagues who remember a spirited leader and Renaissance man who loved his union and was generous to all.

"He embraced everything," said newly retired Sixth District International Vice President David Ruhmkorff, laughing about the time Conway adjourned a district staff meeting in Chicago and took everyone to a musical. "He had a zest for life and he made the most of every moment."

Conway's death was announced at the 40th International Convention, believed to be the first one he'd missed since becoming a Sixth District international representative in 1956.

"He was a great visionary," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson told delegates. "Long before we had women's meetings, Jim started the first ever women's conference over 35 years ago. He was a great man who did a lot for the IBEW."

Conway was born and raised in an IBEW home in Minneapolis, where his father was the longtime president of Local 292. Straight out of high school in 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served in the Philippines during World War II.

In 1947, he followed his father into Local 292, later moving to Eau Claire, Wis., Local 953 and then to the international staff, where he serviced construction, utility and manufacturing locals for 22 years. He was appointed Sixth District international vice president in 1979 and elected to three more terms before retiring in 1995.

Ruhmkorff was a young organizer for Indianapolis Local 481 when he met Conway at a Sixth District progress meeting in 1986. Conway's warmth and good will was evident.

"He was very good at encouraging people, building them up," Ruhmkorff said. "He had the ability to make you feel special even in a crowded room, like you were the one and only person there."

He described Conway as a teacher at heart, enthusiastic about new ways to train, educate and inspire members and staff.

"Jim would always encourage us to seek other ways or means to resolve an issue, besides just pounding on the desk or threatening a strike," Ruhmkorff said, noting that he was also a self-taught expert on labor law.

"He would look at laws in different ways, to see how he could use them to our advantage," he said.

Passionate about art, music and world travel, Conway logged more than a million miles in the air. He skied in Switzerland, played blackjack in Monaco, attended theater in London — his record was eight shows in seven days — and immersed himself in his family's roots in Ireland, among countless other adventures.

He was a man who moved to the beat of his own drum, even within the IBEW.

"Early on when he was an international rep, he had his hair long, he wore leather pants and flowery silk shirts," Ruhmkorff said. "I don't want to say he was nontraditional, but he would push boundaries."

As his family put it in his obituary, "Jim stood out in a crowd." But he was also a union brother to his core.

"Jim was grateful and proud his whole life to be IBEW," they wrote. "Even after retirement, he continued to persuade any nonunion electrician he ran into of the advantages of becoming IBEW."

Ruhmkorff said Conway "loved the IBEW passionately until his death," and always kept up with union business and current events.

"His mind was sharp," Ruhmkorff said. "He was passionate about politics and truly understood the connection between politics and our everyday life and organized labor, and how that impacts workers."

One of the extraordinary things about Conway's indomitable spirit was that he suffered the greatest sorrow imaginable, outliving all of his four children, Ruhmkorff said. He also lost his first wife, Hattie, later marrying Mary Harrigan, a retired Sixth District international representative.

His survivors include Mary, two grandchildren, and three sisters. "Nothing broke his lifelong positive spirit," they said in his obituary. "Even in his final illness, when asked 'How is your day?' he responded, 'Wonderful.'"

The IBEW offers its deepest sympathy to Brother Conway's family with gratitude for service and loyalty that spanned three-quarters of a century.


James Conway

Donald J. Funk

Donald J. Funk, whose bold decisions as Third District international vice president included merging his own local with two others, died April 1. He was 94.

Funk grew up in Schenectady, N.Y., where he was initiated into Local 166 in 1953 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. From apprentice wireman to journeyman to a staff member and officer, friends and family said he found his "employment passion" with the union.

"He loved the IBEW and he always held himself to the highest standards," said Funk's close friend Larry Neidig Jr., retired senior executive assistant to the late International President Edwin D. Hill.

Funk had two core identities, said his son-in-law and retired Albany Local 236 journeyman wireman Walter Nielsen.

"Don was a Marine and he was a union man," Nielsen said. "All his cars were union-made, his clothes were union-made. He believed in it and he pushed for it because it was good for working people."

Early on, Funk dug into all aspects of his local, serving on the negotiating, organizing, finance and apprenticeship committees, as well as the Executive Board.

Ultimately, he was elected business manager and also served as vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO, among countless other appointments throughout his life to labor and community advisory boards.

He came aboard the Third District staff in 1976 and took the helm in 1988, first appointed and then elected international vice president at the IBEW's Centennial Convention in 1991.

Friends and family describe Funk as outgoing and charming, with a dry sense of humor. He was also pragmatic, focused and unafraid to make tough decisions.

"He could be forceful, but he was a gentleman about it," said Don Siegel, one of Funk's successors as Third District IVP.

Nielson said Funk never raised his voice. His larger-than life presence spoke for itself — even as he presided over several contentious mergers, including one that spelled the end of the locals in Schenectady and Troy. Today they are part of Local 236 in neighboring Albany.

"Don knew it was necessary," Siegel said. "They were fighting like cats and dogs. The jurisdictional lines were so close that a contractor from either one of those three cities would be operating in all three."

The fact that Funk was IVP, two steps removed from his old job as business manager of Local 166, made the decision to merge a bit easier, Siegel noted with humor. "I don't know how much he would have fought it before — but he certainly wouldn't have encouraged it," he said.

Funk stayed up on union business and attended district progress meetings long into his retirement, often making the nine-hour drive by himself to Pittsburgh from his home in Lake Placid, N.Y.

"The last time he did that he was 90 years old," said Neidig, who spoke with Funk and his wife, Barbara, nearly every week. "He was still very sharp. He had a lot of institutional knowledge and a good memory."

Most of all, the meetings let him reconnect with his union brothers and sisters. "He had many people he kept in touch with, and he was very well known," Neidig said. "If you met Don Funk, you had a friend forever."

In his leisure time, Funk was an avid skier. He built his home next to the slopes of Lake Placid and later spent winters on the mountains of Colorado and Utah after retiring. "He skied well into his 90s, before age simply wouldn't cooperate with what he loved to do so much," his family said in his obituary.

In addition to Barbara, Funk's survivors include his daughters Kathy Tourtellot and Lori Nielsen. Both followed their father into the IBEW as National Grid employees represented by Albany Local 1249. He also has two grandchildren, whose school, musical theater and sporting events he never missed.

The IBEW sends sincere condolences to Brother Funk's family with deep appreciation for decades of devoted service.


Donald J. Funk

Tom N. Griffiths

Tom Griffiths, business manager of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 625 and a widely admired organizer, wasn't running for anything when he arrived at the 40th International Convention in Chicago in May.

But he turned a 24-hour campaign into victory when the candidate he was backing for the Eighth District seat on the International Executive Council was deemed ineligible and asked Griffiths to take his place.

"It is an honor of a lifetime," he said in remarks to delegates afterwards, offering "gratitude and respect" to predecessor Phil Venoit and praising the job he did.

A journeyman wireman, Griffiths worked with the tools for 25 years until 2002 when he joined the staff of Local 625, which covers mainland Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada. He was elected to lead the local five years ago after nearly a decade as assistant business manager.

"He will be a great voice for Canada," said First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk, who was elected alongside Griffiths. "Tom has networked with a lot of the business managers across Canada. He's well known. He'll bring up the conditions and concerns we face in our country."

He'll also be a strong advocate for growth, Shewchuk said, recalling how he and Griffiths got to know each other as like-minded young organizers working in different regions of Canada.

"When you have that organizing spirit within you, you never lose that," he said. "Tom will bring new ideas to the IEC and open some eyes. He's a mentor, and he's got a great young organizer named Brad Wood, who's going to be another shining star."

Griffiths was born in Boston and has dual citizenship in Canada, where he spent summers with his mother's family in Digby County in southwest Nova Scotia before moving there at age 16. He applied to be a Local 625 apprentice after two years of trade school in Yarmouth.

Until the local called with good news in 1979, Griffiths worked for low pay and no benefits for several nonunion contractors. He relishes the memory of returning to one of those employers in 2004 and organizing its workers.

Cordell Cole, the business manager who hired him, sensed right away that Griffiths was the right person for the job.

"I was looking for a special type. I knew that the car salesman approach to organizing didn't work," said Cole, now a First District international representative. "Tom had the patience of Job. It was baby steps at first, small successes."

For two years, Griffiths visited job sites and laid the groundwork. "People got to know him and knew they could trust him," Cole said. "I can't even tell you the stream of nonunion electricians who would come to his office and vent for three hours. He'd listen, and every once in a while he'd get a question in."

Over the course of six and a half years, the local nearly doubled in size — from about 700 members to 1,300. For Griffiths, it was a daily adventure.

"Every day was different. You never knew what might happen," he said. "People always ask me, 'What's the next company you're going to organize?' You'd have three or four pots on the stove, not sure which one was going to blow first. Sometimes it was one you weren't even thinking of."

Griffiths kept things exciting away from work, too. For years, he competed in the BF Goodwrench professional off-road circuit in his Jeep, even helping to organize races and knock out trails. "I did all kinds of events — hill climbs, slaloms, rallies," he said.

In his leisure time these days, he restores classic cars and is an avid golfer. With his wife, Doreen, he's also been renovating a cabin at a lakeside camp that's been in his family for decades. "I've spent every weekend on it for the past couple of years," he said. "I think I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."

The IBEW congratulates Brother Griffiths and welcomes him to the IEC.


Tom N. Griffiths

Russell N. Shewchuk

Russell N. Shewchuk was elected in May as international vice president for the IBEW's First District at the union's 40th International Convention in Chicago.

A four-term business manager of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Local 2085, Shewchuk brings a lifetime of IBEW experience to his new role. His father, Peter, was a Local 2085 electrician for more than 40 years, and the younger Shewchuk grew up sitting in on union meetings and attending the local's social events.

"Dad's fellow IBEW members were like family," he said. "My mom and dad were both very strong union people."

As a teenager, though, Shewchuk didn't think much about electrical work, he said: "I went through high school as kind of an academic." After graduating, he studied political science and labour at the University of Manitoba.

But after working an electrician job during a summer break. "I really got into it, especially the camaraderie," he said. "You can see something be created with your own hands." He was initiated in 1990 into Local 2085 — a local that claims the honor of being the IBEW's largest, geographically, covering Manitoba and the Territory of Nunavut and reaching as far north as the Arctic Circle.

The Red Seal-certified journeyman wireman worked the tools and was a foreman and shop steward. He quickly got active with Local 2085, serving on its Executive Board and often holding leadership roles on local, provincial and international committees, as well as working as a trainer.

But at his core, Shewchuk is an organizer. In the decade leading up to his becoming business manager, Shewchuk was an organizer/Membership Development representative, bringing workers from more than 40 companies into the IBEW. "I talked to contractors as much as I could," he said. "You talk to the head of the company, lay out a plan, and tell them about the IBEW and how there are benefits for both parties." His efforts led to Local 2085's growth from 500 members to its current level of around 1,400. He also helped the IBEW gain steady, reliable work through the development of a provincial condo/residential collective bargaining agreement.

Organizing was why he ran to represent all of Canada as international vice president. "I wanted to do it because I think I can help us move forward. I thought there was an opportunity here," he said. "I don't think we're where we should be in Canada. We have to build our numbers and build a stronger IBEW across the country."

He credits his political science background for helping him build a supportive coalition. "People said, 'We hope you can do this; we'll help you,'" he said. "It was the right group, the right time, the right moment."

"Russ won the election with a decisive victory involving all sectors of the First District," said James Barry, executive secretary-treasurer of the Construction Council of Ontario, which represents more than 17,000 IBEW members. "I have known Russ for many years, and I am extremely confident that he will be a fantastic international vice president for Canada, bringing creativity, enthusiasm and intellect to the First District office."

Moving forward, Shewchuk said, "We're going to grow the district to where it should be. It's all about getting a fair deal for our contractors while creating a good work-life balance for our members with good benefit plans for our families.

"Look at the work the IBEW has done for our folks," he said. "Lots of people before us worked for that. The IBEW is progressive, looking at the next generation. I'm honored and humbled to be in this position."

"I'm personally looking forward to working with my close friend to make the IBEW in Canada stronger," Barry said, "through hard work and dedication to our existing membership and to those we will welcome into our union over the coming years."

Shewchuk will serve his fellow Canadians from the First District's office in Mississauga, Ontario. But during winter vacations, the avid snowmobiler hopes to spend some time with his fiancée, Katerina, at their home near Lake Winnipeg. "It's not unheard of to ride 200 miles a day there," said Shewchuk. "Everything just goes away in the snow and pine trees." His son, Brendon, is a fourth-year Local 2085 apprentice working for signatory contractor Abco Supply and Service, and his daughter, Devon, works for Bell MTS. His stepdaughter, Elisa, works for VIA Rail and is in her final year of university, and his stepson, Felice, is a third-level UA pipefitter apprentice.

Please join the entire IBEW in wishing Brother Shewchuk the best of luck as he assumes his new role.


Russell N. Shewchuk

Ricky Oakland

Ricky Oakland, who has held numerous high-profile leadership roles in 40 years as an IBEW member and a longtime fixture of the International Office staff, was named chief of staff to the international president and secretary-treasurer, effective Aug. 1.

Oakland, who served as special assistant to the president for membership development for the previous eight years, replaces Darrin Golden, who was named the executive secretary-treasurer of the National Electrical Benefit Fund, the IBEW's largest multiemployer pension.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Oakland, who first came to the International Office in 2002 as an international representative in the Construction & Maintenance Department. "It's going to be challenging. When I took the job in Membership Development, I was like, 'Holy cow, this seems so big.' Now, it's even bigger."

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson has no doubt he is up to the challenge.

"Brother Oakland is a proven leader who has done an exemplary job in every position he's had in our great union," Stephenson said. "He is leaving the Membership Development Department in excellent shape. He has my complete trust and will do a tremendous job assisting myself and the other officers in building on our recent successes in the months and years ahead."

After growing up in Coos Bay, Ore., Brother Oakland began his apprenticeship at Casper, Wyo., Local 322 in 1982, topping out four years later. He was an instructor in Local 322's JATC program for four years before being appointed business manager in 1989 at the age of 26. He was re-elected five times and named Labor Leader of the Year by the Wyoming AFL-CIO in 1997.

One year after arriving at the International Office in Washington, Oakland was named director of the CIR/Bylaws and Appeals Department. The Council on Industrial Relations works to resolve conflicts between the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association in a manner satisfactory to both parties. He later moved to the Membership Development Department.

Oakland said he takes pride in leaving the department with the number of "A" construction members at an all-time high. The future is bright for organizing, especially with a pro-union administration in the White House, he said.

"The teamwork in [Membership Development] is excellent and morale is high," he said. "We have a group there that views organizing as fun and exciting. You treat people with respect and dignity and it's amazing what they'll do for you."

In his new role, Oakland will be tasked with tackling the toughest issues facing the IBEW alongside Stephenson and International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth W. Cooper. He also will be involved in planning for the next International Convention in San Diego in 2026.

He follows in the footsteps of Golden, who was the first to hold the position, and Oakland praised how helpful his predecessor has been during the transition. He hopes to maintain Golden's high standards.

"It just blows me away, for those two officers [Stephenson and Cooper] to have this kind of confidence in me," he said. "It makes it kind of surreal. I'll do everything I can to make them look good and help them be the most effective leaders.

"It's going to be a lot of work with a lot of moving pieces," he added. "I think you have to count on the other executive assistants and directors to continue the team concept and pull the rope in the same direction."

Oakland lives in Annapolis, Md., with his wife, Jennifer Eklof. He has three children.

The officers and staff congratulate Brother Oakland on his appointment and wish him much success in his new position.


Ricky Oakland

Jammi Ouellette

Director of Professional and Industrial Organizing Jammi Ouellette has been appointed Executive Assistant to the International President for Membership Development, effective Aug. 1. She is the first woman of color to serve in the role.

Ouellette succeeds Ricky Oakland, who was appointed Chief of Staff and praised her fit for the top organizing job. "Jammi is a great leader and communicator. She's always establishing relationships with everyone she meets, which is key to organizing," Oakland said.

Sister Ouellette comes to the role with a strong background in organizing and experience from her own journey becoming an active member of her home local, Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245. She started out as a service representative for Pacific Gas & Electric in 2006 but it took until 2010 before she really got involved.

"I am a prime example of internal organizing and what happens when we educate, activate and mobilize rank-and-file members," Ouellette said. "My business representative never gave up on me. She continued asking me to be involved, and it took four years, but it's because of her and my respect for her that I am who I am as an IBEW organizer."

In 2010, Ouellette attended a training called "Change the Narrative" about how to use more effective language when talking about unions. Within months of that, she became a shop steward and later served as recording secretary and vice chairperson for her unit at PG&E. She also started working on political campaigns, first at home in California against a paycheck deception initiative, and later around the country, including battles against anti-worker laws in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Ouellette also credits her then-business manager, Tom Dalzell, for encouraging organizing apprenticeships, where members would be sent to help other locals with organizing and political campaigns throughout the U.S.

"We were immersed, boots on the ground, parachuted in to learn all we could. Then we brought back what we learned and taught our peers," Ouellette said. "He saw it as an investment in the local's future."

It's these organizing experiences, among many others, that Ouellette brings to her new role.

"As a Local 1245 organizing steward, and then organizer, I have an understanding of the IBEW structure and the chain of command that someone off the street would not," Ouellette said. "My love and dedication of the IBEW comes from years of experience and understanding how the IBEW has changed my life, my daughters' and granddaughter's lives and my IBEW siblings' lives."

In her new role, Ouellette will oversee all three divisions of the Membership Development Department: professional and industrial, and inside and outside construction, as well as the International Office staff. It's also a job that interacts with every district of the IBEW.

"Jammi is a team player and very professional. She has already earned the respect of all the P&I team and will do the same for the other departments," Oakland said.

Ouellette says she plans to continue the Membership Development Department's focus on internal organizing.

"Because I know first-hand what internal organizing can do, I always prioritize engaging rank-and-file members and future rank-and-file," she said. "Internal organizing will continue to be a priority for the department."

The California native is also focused on growth and sees this moment as one to seize upon.

"From local union organizers to international organizers, we are focused on growing the brotherhood," Ouellette said. "From President Biden's infrastructure law to the White House Organizing Task Force, to the IBEW's Workforce Recruitment Task Force, we have an opportunity unlike any other to grow."

The IBEW congratulates Sister Ouellette on her well-earned promotion and wishes her much success in her new role.


Jammi Ouellette

Mark Brueggenjohann

Media Department Director Mark Brueggenjohann retired at the end of June, 40 years after his initiation into St. Louis Local 4.

Brother Brueggenjohann knew he wanted to be in TV news early. Very quickly, he realized what he really wanted was a union job in TV news.

He got his first job in 1979 while a student at the University of Tulsa working for a nonunion TV station.

"Everything about it sucked. The pay was so awful. I got fed up and left within a year and went home," he said.

Home was St. Louis, where he started as an audio editor at an IBEW shop, KPLR, a family-owned independent station with a small newsroom.

"It was the only job they had," he said.

But it was the start of a storied, Emmy-winning career in the golden age of local TV news before cable and the internet siphoned off the audience innumerable other directions.

Brueggenjohann joined a newsroom that included veterans from the dawn of television, all of them fighting together to scoop the other, well-staffed newsrooms in the city. He went from that audio job into the news department as an engineer, editor and, his favorite, cameraman.

He covered everything from murders and politics to innumerable county fairs and even a local professional wrestling showcase in the days before the WWE.

The newsroom life made it hard to attend to local meetings, but he did when he could, Brueggenjohann said, and when he switched to KTVI, an ABC-affiliate, in 1986, he was asked to join the negotiating committee.

"I had a lot of opinions," he said with a laugh.

After the successful negotiation, the practice was to make the negotiation committee shop stewards, because they knew the contract better than anyone else. Brueggenjohann found that he liked it.

"If there is a chance to make a difference, I want to make it," he said. "We worked so hard to get the contract, I wanted to make sure it was done correctly."

He joined the Executive Board in 1991 and served until he was appointed business manager following a vacancy in 2002.

"The local was really well-run and there were several people who would have been good, but they appointed me. It was a real honor that they did," he said.

For five years, Brueggenjohann fought to save jobs as the industry transformed and then shrank, first with the move to digital from analog and then as the internet shattered the advertising model of local news.

"It was all rearguard actions against huge companies; Gannet and Tribune would always come in with a first proposal eliminating the union security clause. Always," he said. "You knew that people's livelihoods were always on the line, and I felt like every day we were trying to crawl out of the hole."

But there were wins. People were retrained. Producers, directors and assignment editors were folded into the bargaining unit and all the major sports stayed in union hands.

In 2007, Brueggenjohann was appointed an international representative in the Media Department to launch the IBEW's first video operation. His job was to help the Media Department in its task of telling the brotherhood's story to its members and the world.

"I got the call, and it sounded like an incredible opportunity. I had a lot of experience in newsrooms and understood the process, how you put something together, because I did it three or four times every day before I became business manager," he said. "I really liked the idea of going back to making something."

From a modest start, with two people and some antiquated equipment, the IBEW became a leader in the North American labor movement, staffed by industry professionals who produce award-winning videos, national ads, mini-documentaries and hundreds of hours of audiovisual content each year.

Brueggenjohann also oversaw the design and construction of a state-of-the-art production studio. As then-International President Ed Hill saw what was being done, he began to ask what else was possible, Brueggenjohann said, and the Media Department grew and began traveling around North America documenting the impact the IBEW had in the wider world and in the homes of working men and women.

In 2014, Brueggenjohann was appointed director, where he oversaw the IBEW's media outreach operations, The Electrical Worker newspaper, a redesign of the website and the expansion of the brotherhood's social media presence.

The Media Department is now a modest, but real, newsroom, he said, filled with journalists and television veterans. The Electrical Worker, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are now filled with stories about rank-and-file members, the political issues that matter to working people and celebrations of power we have when we work together.

"The museum even has an actual trained curator. It is not just a collection of stuff," he said. "My job was really easy because of the staff in the department. Everybody cares and works so hard. All I had to do was set them in the right direction."

Brueggenjohann's retirement plans are still in flux but will involve his twin passions for golf and the open road, on either his beloved BMW motorcycles or his brand-new RV.

"It's been an honor to serve the membership and work for the best leadership in the labor movement. They allowed us the freedom to expand our reach in new ways and build the finest media staff anywhere," he said.

Please join the officers in wishing him a long, healthy and happy retirement.


Mark Brueggenjohann

Tiler Eaton

Outside Business Development International Representative Tiler Eaton was appointed Director for Outside Membership Development, effective April 2022.

Eaton, who currently covers the South and East regions for Outside Construction in the Business Development Department, will keep that position in addition to his new role.

"That's a full plate," Eaton said. But he said the positions complement each other in a way they may not for either Professional and Industrial or Inside organizing.

The outside industry is smaller and more consolidated, both in the number of contractors — union and nonunion — and the number of customers who hire those contractors, he said. That means the conversations he is having now in Business Development overlap almost entirely with the ones he'll have in his new organizing role.

"I meet with customers all the time. We work with them as partners in Business Development and they have become a great resource when we are organizing contractors," Eaton said.

Eaton came to linework the old-fashioned way: family. He estimated at least 50 members of his family are linemen, many of them members of Boston Local 104.

After serving from 1983 to 1987 in the Marine Corps as a self-described grunt, Eaton returned to his hometown of Manchester, N.H., and signed on as a groundman until he was accepted into the Northeastern Apprenticeship and Training Program, where he worked for the old Boston Edison and Mass Electric.

He topped out into one of the worst markets for union lineworkers in New England history.

"I was busy my entire apprenticeship and then, right when I topped out, the bottom fell out," he said.

A terrible economy, some strategic errors by the IBEW and aggressive nonunion contractors eviscerated line work in New England during the 1990s he said. The closest job he could find was Detroit, and he was on the road for more than five years.

What brought him home was the Acela project in the late-'90s, Amtrak's high-speed train from Washington to Boston.

It was about the time he returned home that his father suggested he run for president on the ticket with a Local 104 legend, Business Manager Bobby Ward, who had led the union for nearly a quarter of a century by then, guiding the local out of its darkest days.

"I couldn't have had a better teacher than Bobby," Eaton said.

After winning, the local sent him to the National Labor College, and when Ward retired, Eaton replaced him.

After five years as business manager, then-International President Ed Hill tapped Eaton to become a Second District international representative.

"There are a lot more inside reps than outside, and I thought I could help the outside," Eaton said.

One of the IBEW's biggest challenges in getting jobs approved and keeping contractors signed on has been manpower, he said, and one of the most effective tools it has to solve it are local hire requirements.

"Local hire gets projects approved, and when new projects are up for review people remember we were the ones that fought for their families," he said. "You want people speaking at hearings who will say, 'I have a new career. I am providing for my family. I am traveling now; bring me home.'"

Eaton said his highest priority will be building connections during the boom that will last when work inevitably slows. This is especially important when organizing customers who can give approvals for inside-the-fence meetings where we try to organize a contractor on utility property.

This is especially true during the current period of near universal manpower shortages and full employment. The major opportunity in outside organizing, he said, is top-down, where the organizing and business development conversation is essentially the same.

"When the customers see our value, it's hard for the contractor to pretend they don't," he said.

The officers with Eaton the best in his new post.


Tiler Eaton

Jennifer M. Gray

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson has appointed Jennifer Gray as the Membership Development Department's director of professional and industrial organizing.

Gray, a member of Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245, has worked in the P&I department at the International Office as an international representative since her appointment by Stephenson in 2018. Gray replaces Jammi Ouellette, who was elevated to executive assistant to the international president for membership development.

Gray grew up in Fairfield, Calif., and moved to Roseville in suburban Sacramento following her graduation from high school. Her mother is a former IBEW member, as is her brother, who worked at a call center for Pacific Gas and Electric, California's largest utility company.

"My family knew there were good union jobs at PG&E," said Gray, who was hired to be a service representative at the company's call center in Sacramento in 2006. After she was initiated into Local 1245, she quickly became active with the union.

"I started going to meetings early on," said Gray, who credits her enthusiastic involvement to Arlene Edwards, a longtime Local 1245 staffer who died in March.

Gray soon became a Local 1245 shop steward and unit recorder for the Sacramento clerical unit. There, she helped represent IBEW members on PG&E's clerical and benefits negotiating committees.

Contract violations kept the new steward busy practically from the start. "I had to step in when people were working so much mandated overtime with no days off and no rest periods," Gray said.

In 2012, she got involved in Local 1245's campaign against California's anti-union — and ultimately unsuccessful — Proposition 32, which aimed to ban using paycheck deductions for political purposes. Recognizing Gray's efforts, the California Federation of Labor named her Young Trade Unionist of the Year.

"The union was the first place I ever got involved in politics," said Gray, who also was among several Local 1245 members who were sent to help fight anti-union campaigns in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Local 1245's leaders hired Gray as a lead organizer in 2013. One of her biggest accomplishments in that role came early the following year, when 78 new workers were brought into the IBEW from Sunoptics, a Sacramento-based manufacturer of high-tech skylights.

Gray later was promoted to business representative, where she continued to work with Local 1245 clerical members at PG&E along with public sector IBEW members in Roseville and Vallejo.

"Jennifer was always doing a really good job," said Local 1245 Business Manager Robert Dean, who was senior assistant business manager when Gray was hired. "I think that anywhere she goes, it's going to improve that place. I have every expectation that she will continue to do great work."

Eventually, Gray was made assistant business manager, a position she held until Stephenson appointed her as an international representative.

"The union gave me a purpose. I really felt like I was making a difference," said Gray, whose latest appointment is effective Aug. 1. "That IBEW connection let me have the ability to achieve the American Dream."

Gray said that she is looking forward to continuing to work directly with Ouellette, a friend and fellow member of Local 1245, on replicating the IBEW's recent P&I organizing wins at Atlanta Gas Light and Baltimore Gas and Electric at other organizations, large or small.

The officers and staff of the IBEW wish Sister Gray the very best of luck in her new role.


Jennifer M. Gray

Denise Johnson

Agreement Approval Director Denise Johnson, a trailblazer at both the International Office and at Houston Local 716, retired on July 1.

Sister Johnson grew up in Pittsburgh, where her father, Clarence Green, is a longtime electrical contractor and continues to work at the age of 93. She was hoping to work as an electrician, but her father wasn't thrilled with the idea.

"He really tried to steer me away from it," Johnson said. "He knew how women were treated and how they really weren't wanted in the trades at the time. He didn't want that for me."

She instead earned her welding certificate before moving to Houston in her early 20s. She searched for electrical apprenticeship opportunities for more than eight years there with no success.

Finally, in 1994 and while working an office job, Johnson saw an advertisement in the Yellow Pages for electrical apprenticeships. The ad didn't even specify it was with the IBEW and Local 716.

"I let the [apprenticeship committee] know I knew how to work the tools from my father and I was going to have to take a pay cut from my office job," she said. "But I said, 'I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I accept that.' I got up to leave and said, 'Don't let the nails and heels fool you.'"

A few weeks later, Johnson learned she was the first Black woman ever accepted into Local 716's apprenticeship program. She topped out five years later — becoming the first woman, Black or white, ever named the outstanding apprentice in a Local 716 class. She became a foreman less than one year later.

"I was tested a lot but I just stayed true to myself," Johnson said. "One thing my dad told me when I was getting into the apprenticeship program was to demand respect and give it in return."

She became the first woman to hold elected office in Local 716 when she served as Examining Board chairperson and was the first woman to work as an electrical inspector for the city of Houston. She also held several other positions inside and outside of the union, including a spot on the Democratic National Committee.

In that role, she got the attention of Rick Diegel, then the IBEW's political director, when the two attended a legislative conference in the Houston area in 2006.

"She was moving through the crowd with ease, and that piqued my interest," Diegel said. "I had no idea what she was saying, but as we say in politics, she worked the crowd."

After hearing good things about her from Local 716's leaders, Diegel told then-International President Edwin D. Hill that she would be an ideal addition to the Political Department. A few days later, Hill told him he planned to hire Johnson — but as an international representative in the Construction & Maintenance Department instead.

"He was going to hire her one way or another," Diegel said. "It didn't upset me at all that she never worked for me. I'm just happy she made it and I've never regretted [recommending her]. She is outstanding."

As an international representative, Johnson helped shorten the time it took contracts to be approved by the international office after being submitted by local unions. It once took 8-12 months, she said. Now, most are approved within 30 days.

She became a supervisor before becoming the first director of the newly formed Agreement Approval Department in 2015, the position she held until her retirement.

"What I enjoyed the most is helping and meeting with the business managers, the people in the field, and supporting them and figuring out a way to solve their issues and make their jobs a lot easier," Johnson said. "I know what they had to deal with."

In retirement, Johnson has returned to the Houston area with her husband, Roosevelt, a retired firefighter. The couple plans to spend time with their daughter and five grandchildren, tend to a ranch they own and travel. Johnson is an avid horsewoman and plans to stay involved in equestrian events.

Johnson's father, Clarence Green, joined the IBEW after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other legislation banned discriminatory practices that kept Black Americans out of the trades. He left a short time later, however, because he was forced to work as a traveler despite having a family at home and having no desire to do so.

Despite that experience, he always remained supportive of his daughter, Johnson said. "I just really appreciated the opportunity knowing my dad didn't have the same," she said.

The officers and staff thank Sister Johnson for her service and wish her a joyous retirement.


Denise Johnson

Matthew H. Paules

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson has appointed International Representative Matt Paules to be director of the Construction and Maintenance Department, effective June 1.

Paules was initiated into the York, Pa., Local 229 apprenticeship in 1987 as a 19-year-old high school graduate.

York, 52 miles north of Baltimore and 100 miles west of Philadelphia and bordered by the Susquehanna River, is typical of the Pennsylvania industrial heartland. It has the factories like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but central Pennsylvania lacks the union density and pro-worker politics of the big cities, he said.

Over the decades, York lost part of its industrial base overseas, and more recently, to the right-to-work states in the American South. But most of Local 229's work has been in large factories that remain, including water turbine makers Voith Hydro and American Hydro, HVAC maker York International, Harley-Davidson, Johnson Controls and the BAE Systems facility, which makes tanks and other military equipment.

"Our work was strictly industrial, manufacturing and power generation," Paules said. "We just let the rest of it slip away."

In that, Local 229 is not exceptional, and transforming the IBEW back into an organizing union once again was a project that has been central to the brotherhood's mission over the last few decades. It's also both the why and the how of Paules' rise into leadership.

In 1996 he was elected to the Executive Board, serving until 2002 when he was elected vice president and served for three years. He had been on staff as the sole local organizer since 2000, a position he held for eight years.

"We were purely 'turn 'em or burn 'em' at the time," Paules said. If a top-down campaign didn't work, organizers did everything they could to drive a contractor out of the jurisdiction or out of business. If a residential or commercial contractor was interested in signing on, the local had few tools to let them keep their existing business model.

"Our wage structure was set by the big industrial customers," he said. The result, he said, was nonunion contractors grew until they had all of the commercial and residential market, and then they started eating into the rest of the local's work.

Paules can identify the moment and place where that changed.

In 2005, the IBEW expanded a small experiment in the Carolinas into the "Florida Initiative." Launched by then-International President Ed Hill, the idea was to combine expanded classifications to help organizing electrical workers who didn't fit neatly into either apprentice or journeyman boxes and also to create small works agreements that offered more flexibility in workforce composition to compete in sectors the IBEW was losing.

Paules volunteered for an organizing blitz in Florida in 2007 — a picture from that campaign was the first thing he hung in his new office as director of the IBEW's largest branch — and it changed his outlook completely, he said.

"The creation of small works and CE/CW was absolutely a huge turning point," he said.

After Florida, Hill wanted to test the idea in a state with greater union density, and when he chose his home state, Paules was ready. In 2008 he ran for business manager and went all in on the Pennsylvania Initiative.

"Now we could assess and place nonunion electricians where their skills determined they should be and give them a training path to become a journeyman. And it gave us a model that worked for top-down, too. No matter what part of the market a contractor was in, we could offer a business model that would let them stay there," he said.

The result was an increase in total work hours for apprentices and journeymen, and tens of thousands of hours for CE/CWs. New contractors signed up and existing contractors opened new lines of business.

"We built our first hotel in three decades," he said.

In 2018, Lonnie R. Stephenson appointed Paules an international representative in the Construction and Maintenance Department, where, among other tasks, he was responsible for reviewing and approving project labor agreements; Davis-Bacon wage updates and wage survey training; investigating, preparing and arguing grievances under the several national agreements for Construction members; handling jurisdictional disputes with other crafts; and representing the IBEW on the Nuclear Mechanic Apprenticeship Process (NMAP) committee.

The officers and staff with Brother Paules the best as he takes on his new position.


Matthew H. Paules

Matthew Spence

Matthew Spence was appointed director of the Media Department by International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, effective July 1, to replace retiring Director Mark Brueggenjohann.

Spence worked the last five years managing publication of The Electrical Worker and serving as deputy to Brueggenjohann managing other facets of the department.

"The Media Department is in good hands," Brueggenjohann said. "Matt knows the work and understands the role of the department is to serve the membership of the IBEW and share their incredible stories."

A native of Atlanta who grew up in North Carolina, Spence started his career in politics, working for candidates at every level of government, including two presidential campaigns. On the second he served as the candidate's liaison to the labor community in New England.

"I really fell in love with the labor movement working in New Hampshire," he said. "I didn't come from a labor family, and I grew up in the right-to-work South, so it wasn't until I started working closely with union leaders and members through politics that I understood the impact a union can have for working families."

In 2008, Spence took a job with The Times of London newspaper's Washington bureau, where he reported on U.S. politics and news for a worldwide audience. There, he covered the Obama administration, Congress, natural disasters and more.

"The Times was life-changing for me," Spence said. "Not only did I learn how to tell people's stories, I got to witness huge events like presidential inaugurations and smaller, but just as impactful ones, like the gratitude in the eyes of disaster victims when help finally arrived.

"During some of the worst times, it was IBEW linemen and women who were first on the scene of a hurricane, flood or tornado doing the heroic work of restoring power and beginning the rebuilding process, making things safe for more help to come in."

In 2015, he joined the writing staff in the Media Department as a member of OPEIU Local 2, which represents staff at the International Office. He took over the day-to-day editorial duties for The Electrical Worker and's Media Center in 2017.

"We have the best job in the IBEW in this department and really talented people who do it," Spence said. "Our team gets to tell the stories of members of this amazing union every day. Our members do incredible work across so many fields, and there's always something going on in the IBEW worth sharing. It never gets old."

Spence encouraged more local unions and members to send their success stories or news of unique projects or organizing wins to the department at for consideration for video or Electrical Worker pieces.

"We're always looking for those stories that will inspire or uplift or help with the hard work of organizing the next generation of IBEW members and putting them to work," he said. "But we can't tell them if we don't know about them."

He's particularly proud of the "My IBEW Story" feature, which has been printed on Page 2 of The Electrical Worker the past few years opposite the officers' columns. It collects tales of how the IBEW has changed individual members' lives for the better and shares them with the entire membership.

"Reading those stories each month reminds all of us why we do what we do, how the power of union can change working families' lives," Spence said. "If it doesn't inspire you to go out and organize and introduce more people to the benefits of a union contract, I don't know what will."

Members and retirees can submit their own stories at

The officers and staff wish Brother Spence the best as he takes on his new role and responsibilities.


Matthew Spence

Areana Tate

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson has appointed Areana Tate as director of the IBEW's Agreement Approval Department, effective July 1. She replaces Denise Johnson, who retired.

Tate grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, Calif. Her first career was with an AT&T call center, where she steadily moved up the ranks. She was weeks away from becoming one of the company's first Black managers in southern California, she said, when AT&T closed her center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The company lost critical communications equipment in the destroyed North Tower of World Trade Center, which severely affected cellular communication throughout the U.S., Tate said.

While taking on some temp work, she was eventually introduced to the IBEW through a chance meeting with Los Angeles Local 11 member Diana Limón, now training director at the local's Electrical Training Institute.

"I got into the union in June of 2006," Tate said. "A few months later, I got involved with the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus and the Women's Empowerment Group, volunteering where I could."

After Tate finished her apprenticeship, she was a shop steward and foreman before becoming an instructor at the ETI. She also became increasingly involved in her community.

"I really wanted to get active," Tate said. "While I was an instructor, I saw that apprentices sometimes needed extra money to cover emergencies like car repairs or even funerals." Local 11's leaders generously allowed her to collect money from apprentices and journeymen alike, she said.

"I also coordinated what's known as the Tate-Watson Tool Drive," she said. Named for herself and her fellow Local 11 member Deon Watson, the drive called on apprentices, journeymen and instructors to donate spare tools to new apprentices. "The Local 11 EWMC and RENEW/NextGen committees are still doing that," she said. She also managed an EWMC food drive, through which instructors and apprentices collected an eye-popping 7.1 tons of food to help feed L.A.'s hungry.

"Areana is very enthusiastic and outgoing," said Summer Zachary, senior instructor at the ETI, who met Tate in 2014 through the EWMC. "Her love of the IBEW has driven her so much. She cares so much about the membership."

Tate was in her third year as Local 11's recording secretary when her community service efforts caught the attention of the International Office. In 2019, Stephenson appointed her as an international representative in the Civic and Community Engagement Department.

"I was just doing my work, doing what I loved, working in the community. Getting used to the weather here [in Washington] was kind of rough," she said with a laugh.

In her new role, Tate will use her considerable organizational skills to head up the Agreement Approval Department, which ensures that agreements negotiated between locals and contractors stick to the IBEW's established guidelines.

It's a perfect fit for Tate, said Zachary. "She'll still be making sure the members are being taken care of."

Tate plans to build on the legacy left by her predecessor, Johnson, who was the first director in the role when the department was split off from Construction and Maintenance in 2015.

Tate also plans to continue her work in Washington, D.C., with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and with the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization of Black trade unionists that fights for racial equality and economic justice.

In their spare time, Tate and her wife, Tayler, enjoy playing golf, spending time on shooting ranges and going on cruises. "We're also adamant foodies," she said, "trying different things whenever we can." And despite her L.A. upbringing, Tate's family is from Louisiana and Mississippi, which is why she still roots for the NFL's New Orleans Saints. "It's a house divided," she said: "Tayler is a Dallas Cowboys fan."

Please join the entire brotherhood in wishing Sister Tate the best of luck in her new role.


Areana Tate

Tim Dixon

Ninth District International Representative Tim Dixon, who served as the IBEW's spokesperson and co-chairman in four national negotiations with CBS and serviced locals along the West Coast, retired on July 1.

IBEW members employed by CBS approved a new three-year contract with the company earlier this year. That and a recent battle with prostate cancer convinced Dixon the time was right to retire.

"If I had any doubts or second thoughts, these medical issues underscored it's the right time to go," said Dixon, adding he is feeling good and looking forward to spending time with his wife and family.

Born and raised in southern California, Brother Dixon earned bachelor's and master's degrees from UCLA with a minor in labor studies. He was hired by Hollywood, Calif., Local 40 as a researcher and business representative in 1984.

Pete Dixon, his father, was a Ninth District international representative at the time. Tim said the two talked nearly every day until the elder Dixon passed away from cancer in 1987.

"He was my mentor in those early days," Tim Dixon said. "Although my dad was not assigned to service Local 40, he was my international rep on speed dial. Even though I went to school, I think he was really proud that I was making a career in the IBEW."

Dixon eventually became assistant business manager for Local 40, which represents electricians and technicians employed in the motion picture industry in California.

He was appointed business manager following a retirement and was re-elected three times. Local 40's membership reached record levels during his tenure following a successful organizing effort of special effects technicians, stage managers and sound mixers at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Dixon and others also convinced MGM to hire Local 40 members to install the new fiber optics technology at their California facilities in the early 1990s. He negotiated the first inside agreement with NECA after Local 40 regained inside jurisdiction in 1996.

Following that, Dixon joined the Ninth District staff in 1998. He was assigned initially as a service representative but likely will be best remembered for his role in negotiations with CBS, which the IBEW has partnered with since it was a radio company in the late 1930s. His organizational skills and rich, baritone voice made him a natural spokesperson.

"The CBS-IBEW relationship probably is one of the most unique in organized labor," he said. "Yes, there have been challenges. I can remember some issues where you think, 'How in the hell are we going to get through this?' Yet, I think we've found a way through treating each side with respect and really and truly partnering."

Third District International Representative Dominick Macchia served as co-chair with Dixon during all four negotiations. He said Dixon could have stepped aside during the latest round due to his health issues, but he told Macchia, "I have to do this for our members, most of whom I have never met and likely will never meet, who have afforded me and my family a better life."

"You can never replace Tim Dixon," Macchia said. "He was one of the most prepared people I've ever met. He's my brother from another mother."

Dixon also served as co-lead negotiator during two national contract negotiations with Fox Sports. Outside of broadcasting, he became a recognized expert on working with newly organized bargaining units negotiating first contracts. He's traveled across the country conducting training sessions and nurturing new units through the process.

"That has been some of my most rewarding work, to stand with a group of people that has put it on the line and risked everything to join the IBEW and help their co-workers," he said.

Dixon's wife, Erin, an attorney who owns her own firm, also is retiring. The two plan to travel while also spending more time with their five children and eight grandchildren.

He said he'll most miss the relationships with people like Macchia — who isn't retiring just yet but is stepping away from the CBS negotiations.

"Dominick is the ultimate professional and we would we not have been as successful without him," Dixon said. "I trust that he and I will remain friends the rest of our lives."

The officers and staff thank Brother Dixon for his service and wish him a happy retirement.


Tim Dixon

Dave Hoque

Tenth District International Representative Dave Hoque has retired, effective June 1.

Brother Hoque ends a 25-year career, 15 of them spent organizing at multiple levels of the IBEW, first at Knoxville, Tenn., Local 760, then joining the staff as an international representative. On the I.O. staff, he served as a lead organizer starting in 2007 before becoming the Tenth District organizing coordinator in 2010. He held that position for five years before moving to the Business Development Department in 2015.

"Dave is a born organizer," said Director of Business Development Ray Kasmark. "It comes naturally to him."

A California native, Hoque spent his organizing days primarily in the South. The Tenth District encompasses North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas, all right-to-work states. But it was a task that he was more than capable of handling, says Kasmark.

"He's a very tenacious individual and really adaptable. Nothing flusters him," Kasmark said. "He had to find unique ways to accomplish things and be more creative, to think outside the box.

"If he didn't have that attitude, he never would have succeeded out there."

Hoque was part of the Carolina Initiative, an effort that began in 2007 and invested International Office resources in the area to grow market share and increase membership. One of the people he worked closely with was International Representative Tommy Hill.

"Dave is a driven, no-nonsense kind of guy," Hill said. "He has a heart for organizing nonunion workers. He wanted to give them the same opportunity he was given and by doing so, grow the IBEW. It wasn't easy, but the local unions in the Carolinas have benefited from these programs."

When Hoque was organized into the IBEW in 1997, he became the second in his family to join, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Buzz Hoque, who joined after World War II. And the legacy has continued, with Brother Hoque's son, Patrick, who is also a member of Local 760.

"My son is enjoying all the things I fought for," Hoque said. "He wants that IBEW life too."

In fact, Hoque says that his son joining the brotherhood might be his greatest organizing achievement.

"The best guy I ever organized was my son. He saw all the behind-the-scenes stuff and still wanted to join," Hoque said. "I think he saw my passion and that made him a believer."

Hoque, who is 60, says it's humbling to be finishing up his career at an age where he can still do and enjoy so much. But this is the right time for him.

"It feels like I'm retiring at a level where I've mentored enough people, I've done everything that was asked of me, and now it's time to get out of the way for the next guy."

While some people are happy to enjoy a leisurely retirement, Hoque is already jumping back in. He's working with his town's mayor on a job fair.

"I'm an organizer. It's my lot in life to help connect people with jobs," Hoque said. "I like classic cars, fishing and spending time with my grandkids, too, but I want to be eulogized as an organizer."

The officers, members and staff of the IBEW wish Brother Hoque all the best in retirement and thank him for his years of service to the brotherhood.


Dave Hoque