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September 2022

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Siemens USA's $54M Investment Promises
More IBEW Manufacturing Jobs

Members of the IBEW were front and center — some physically, others virtually — for President Joe Biden's White House announcement in March of Siemens USA's plan to invest $54 million to expand its manufacturing facilities, growth that promises to bring at least 300 new jobs to the company's IBEW-represented workplaces in California and Texas.

"President Biden a year ago was talking about bringing jobs back to the United States," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said at the White House. "Good-paying manufacturing jobs, and more importantly he says, union jobs. That's why we are here."

Siemens makes components that support a variety of technologies, including electric vehicle chargers, computer circuit boards and the file servers that fill data centers. The company's planned expansion will send about $40 million to Pomona, Calif., to build a brand-new hub where Los Angeles Local 1710's members will manufacture electric vehicle charging stations.

"Siemens is in a very logistical area near L.A. Harbor; it's very convenient," said Local 1710 Business Manager Amalia Arroyo. In addition to the company's switchgear manufacturing facility where about 100 IBEW members work, along with a warehouse employing another 25 or so members, "Siemens owns a large piece of empty property next to their existing Pomona facility that's available and ready to build on," she said.

Another $10 million is earmarked for the Grand Prairie, Texas, facility, where Fort Worth, Texas, Local 220 members will see a 25,000-square foot expansion of facilities to make low- and medium-voltage switches used in such places as health care facilities, data centers and industrial sites.

"We make a lot of stuff for the federal government, for data centers, and for Tesla. We get around," said Local 220 Business Manager Joshua Worthey, whose local covers 51 counties in Texas and represents about 1,000 workers in a broad mix of disciplines, including outside linemen.

"We've had our ups and downs in recent years, but this is another sign that things are improving," Worthey said.

Introducing Biden was Local 220 shop steward Johnny Le, a self-described introvert who credited the IBEW Government Affairs Department with helping him find the right words to say during his remarks.

"When my parents fled communist Vietnam with nothing but the clothes on their backs and hope of a better life, they never envisioned one day their son would be introducing the president of the United States," said Le, a nine-year IBEW member who also serves as an interpreter for the Asian community at Siemens. "My story and so many others of first-generation Americans would not be possible without the important pro-worker, pro-union policies that President Biden and his administration support."

Being in the limelight like that was tough, Le said later, although Biden helped put him at ease, he said. "I didn't know the details of the event or even my role until I got to D.C. I thought I was just a chance to meet the president," he said. "If it helps bring positive attention to the IBEW, it's worth it."

"When I got elected, I said I wanted to rebuild America," said Biden, who virtually toured both Siemens plants before the event. "This is what I was talking about. I want to see a lot more stories like this one."

Local 1710's Kevin Wilson, a 26-year Siemens employee, spoke with Biden while leading the president on the virtual tour of the Pomona plant.

Stephenson, in his remarks at the White House event, called attention to the video screens on both sides of the stage, which showed a live feed of gathered Siemens workers in Grand Prairie and Pomona.

"They are the ones doing the heavy lifting, the work, day in and day out, producing for this country and making us a better country because of it," he said.

Also speaking at the event were Siemens USA Chief Executive Officer Barbara Humpton and White House "Made in America" Office Director Celeste Drake.

Manufacturing Director Brian Lamm said he is optimistic that this news also could help IBEW organizing efforts in other Siemens facilities around the U.S., especially those in heavily anti-union states.

"The IBEW has a great relationship with Siemens. I'm really excited about this," Lamm said. "I think it's great news for the IBEW, a big deal. These are jobs that will last for decades."

Stephenson agreed. "The IBEW is proud to partner with Siemens to advance manufacturing careers in this industry," he said. "These are union careers that won't just rebuild our infrastructure, but our middle class as well. I'm excited by Siemens' announcement that it is investing in American manufacturing to make electrical equipment that will help strengthen our energy infrastructure while also putting us on the road to a clean energy future."


President Stephenson joined President Biden at the White House to hear Siemens USA's big investment news.

NLRB Seeks to End Captive Audience Meetings;
Employers Sue

As the National Labor Relations Board considers cases that could lead to a historic ban on captive audience meetings, employers are attempting a preemptive strike by suing the board's top lawyer.

General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo has asked the to board reverse precedent and rule that the mandatory meetings, one of the most potent weapons used to derail union organizing drives, violate federal labor law.

Her directive in April, among the boldest of many groundbreaking initiatives from her office over the past year, drew outrage from management-side lawyers and business groups claiming that she was attacking free speech.

Abruzzo argued from the beginning that critics have it backwards.

"This license to coerce is an anomaly in labor law," she said in a memo. "It is inconsistent with the Act's protection of employees' free choice and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers' speech rights."

Seeking to block her guidance as unconstitutional, a group of staffing firms in July filed a lawsuit against Abruzzo in the conservative U.S. District Court in eastern Texas.

The NLRB hadn't commented as of early August. Instead, the Biden-era agency continues to focus on game-changing moves to protect workers' rights after decades of attacks that hit new levels of hostility in recent years.

While board precedent has "tolerated" forced meetings in the past, Abruzzo said the 1935 National Labor Relations Act is unambiguous, citing sections 7 and 8 that are the basis of all unfair labor practice complaints.

"Forcing employees to listen to such employer speech under threat of discipline — directly leveraging [their] dependence on their jobs — plainly chills employees' protected right to refrain from listening," she said.

Section 7 guarantees the right of workers to join unions and bargain collectively. Section 8 makes it illegal for an employer "to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7" and lists in explicit detail what that includes.

"The language in the law is crystal clear," said Jammi Ouellette, executive assistant to the international president for Membership Development. "It is infuriating to think about how flagrantly employers violate it. They've gotten away with it for decades with minimal consequences, if any, because the courts and even the NLRB at times have interpreted it too loosely.

"Now we've got an NLRB that is on the offense like never before against employer abuses, and captive audience meetings are the union-buster's No. 1 weapon," Ouellette said. "Sitting through a captive audience meeting is psychological torture. Most of our future members sit through them daily during an organizing effort."

The battle isn't only being waged at the federal level. This spring, Connecticut lawmakers passed a hotly debated state ban on captive audience meetings, the Protecting Employee Freedom and Conscience Act. It bars employers "from coercing any employee into attending or participating in a meeting concerning the employer's views on political or religious matters."

A similar law has been in place since 2010 in Oregon, where the Worker Freedom Act prohibits "firing, punishing or threatening workers who refuse to sit for 'employer-sponsored' meetings" that are held to convey religious or political views, which includes union organizing.

The Oregon law survived a federal court challenge filed two years ago by the NLRB itself during the era of the board's virulently anti-union general counsel Peter Robb, whom President Joe Biden fired as one of his first acts of business on Inauguration Day 2021.

Studies show that captive audience tactics are nearly universal among employers whose workers seek to organize. With union campaigns making headlines daily at some of the nation's most prominent companies, banning the meetings could be especially significant now.

The NLRB reports that union representation petitions more than doubled between Oct. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022 — rising to 1,174 from the 748 filed during the same period the previous fiscal year.

Reversing precedent will require the board to rule on a new case related to captive audience meetings. Several cases are being considered.

Abruzzo is seeking to forbid the meetings in two types of situations involving anti-union speech: when workers are "forced to convene on paid time" or are "cornered by management while performing their job duties."

"In both cases, employees constitute a captive audience deprived of their statutory right to refrain, and instead are compelled to listen by threat of discipline, discharge, or other reprisal — a threat that employees will reasonably perceive even if it is not stated explicitly," she said.

Her original memo has generated no shortage of hyperbole from management-side attorneys and journals claiming the NLRB is infringing on employers' free speech.

Imposing the "long-overdue protection of employees' right to refrain will not impair employers' statutory or constitutional freedom of expression," Abruzzo argues. She cited a 1944 Supreme Court ruling that said while employers are within their First Amendment rights to persuade workers regarding unions, coercion is over the line.

But the courts were awash at the time with cases attacking the NLRA's prohibition on forced attendance. Overall, the rulings weakened the provision years before the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 eroded other workplace rights.

One of the principal cases involved the IBEW and workers trying to unionize at Virginia Electric & Power Co. in 1940, as cited in a 2004 law journal's report on captive audience meetings.

The NLRB ruled in the employees' favor, finding that company speeches and bulletins unlawfully interfered with their organizing drive. However, the Fourth Circuit refused to enforce the board's order, a decision the Supreme Court affirmed.

Report author and labor lawyer Elizabeth J. Masson called the anti-worker ruling a "watershed in labor law, signaling that employers need not remain neutral during the union election process."

"Coming just six years after the NLRA's enactment, the Court's holding was in stark contradiction to Congress' declared national labor policy of encouraging the procedure of collective bargaining as essential for a free and democratic society," she said.

Some 80 years later, International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said, the pendulum is finally swinging back in its intended direction.

"President Biden pledged to be the most pro-worker, pro-union president we've ever seen," he said. "The actions of the people he's appointed to protect workers — at the NLRB, the Department of Labor and across his administration — are proof of it."


Captive audience meetings were used recently against workers in Wisconsin and Illinois during a winning campaign to organize with the IBEW.

Idaho Strengthens Penalties
for Assaulting Utility Workers

Idaho utility workers have been assaulted, threatened and shot at, and that's not everything. Now, they have a new law to protect them, and it's thanks in part to powerful IBEW testimony and a willingness to find common ground with a Republican-dominated Legislature that took the time to listen to unions.

"This is about hardworking people who are in harm's way," said Seattle Local 77 journeyman lineman Kyle Beierle, who was involved in the lobbying effort. "This bill isn't union versus nonunion, it's a bill for people who are just doing their jobs. And it's been a long time coming."

On March 25, Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, signed Senate Bill 1321 into law. The bill adds utility employees to a list of personnel who are protected with enhanced punishments if someone commits assault or battery against them, putting them in the same category as law enforcement officers, judges, corrections workers, emergency dispatchers, firefighters and Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation employees.

The law, which went into effect July 1, was sorely needed according to testimony from IBEW members and other affected workers. They've had dogs unleashed on them, shotguns brandished, death threats made and vehicles used as weapons, to name just a few of the incidents presented to legislators before the bill passed.

"We have sheriff's office reports from Grangeville to Grandview to Rigby. This is occurring across the state, across different utilities, and it does seem to be increasing in frequency," Idaho AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director Jason Hudson told the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee. "I have talked to several people who have been in the industry for many, many years across the state and almost universally what I hear is, there's always been problems out there, but in the last five years it's gotten a whole lot worse."

A similar bill passed in neighboring Washington in 2019, but Idaho is not Washington, says Seattle Local 77 Assistant Business Manager Mike Brown. Washington is the third most union-dense state in the country, whereas Idaho has had right-to-work since 1985.

"It's not favorable in Idaho and hasn't been for a long time," Brown said of the state's political climate. "We're usually just playing defense."

But a few years ago, Brown, Beierle, Hudson and then-Local 77 Political Director Sean Bagsby got together to strategize about how they could do more in the deeply red state where Local 77 has jurisdiction in the northern region.

"For years we heard we couldn't get anything done," Brown said. "We were done with that mentality."

So, they started looking for ways to build bipartisanship and in particular make inroads into the Republican party, which holds 84 of the state's 105 legislative seats. One way they did that was by attending Republican political dinners. They even bought tables and made sure to donate at a level that would require the local's name to be read aloud from the stage.

"We got some stares, but we just kept going," Brown said. "We're just people, just working people. We wanted to let them know that we're not a bunch of heathens because we're in a union."

Their plan didn't work overnight, but it did work. Eventually they built those relationships and that led to the utility assault bill, with Republican sponsors in both the House and Senate.

"Local 77 was the driving factor in making these protections for public utility workers a reality," Hudson said. "They committed to the idea, invested the time to work together with the Idaho AFL-CIO to build a plan, and then had the patience to stick to the plan even when things sometimes seemed to be moving slowly."

From there, it was the personal stories of those who testified and lobbied the legislators, including IBEW members, that ultimately brought the bill over the finish line.

"The testimony of our members was massive," said Brown, who was among those who spoke to the Legislature and once had a person threaten him with a chainsaw.

One story that stood out came from Local 77 member Eric York. In 2018, the Idaho County Light and Power lineman was held at gunpoint — after being hit in the head with the barrel of the gun so hard that it drew blood — and forced to give up his utility truck. The man who committed the assault got barely more than a slap on the wrist, with a sentence of just 30 days in jail to be served at his leisure and 100 hours of community service.

"I'm really not familiar with addressing legislators or anything like that, but I wanted to help get the bill through," York said. "It's nice to know that we have more protection now, and that people might actually refrain."

Local 77 member Ben Cook also testified, and then stuck around after to speak to as many members as possible.

"I felt that it was beneficial for the legislation to put a face on the bill so they weren't just reading a piece of paper," said Cook, who also told a story of having a gun pulled on him.

Local 77 was joined in its efforts by Salt Lake City Local 57, Boise Local 291, and Pocatello Local 449, all of which have members who would be impacted by the new law, in addition to workers from other unions like the Communications Workers of America and the Plumbers and Pipefitters.

"The beauty of this bill is that it's not just a lineman's bill, it covers anyone regulated by a utility commission," Beierle said. "We did this for all of us."

Idaho joins 15 other states in increasing penalties for assault against utility workers. And while Washington is one of those states, Beierle and Brown said they used Tennessee's passage when lobbying since it's politically more similar.

"We never mentioned Washington. Ever," Brown said.

The lobbying team was also run out of Local 77's Spokane office on the state's eastern side, closer to Idaho, with Idaho people leading the charge.

"Idaho can be kind of a territorial place. It doesn't want to follow the lead of Washington," Beierle said.

The membership, which Brown estimates is about 45% Republican overall and closer to 90% in Idaho, also likes the bipartisanship.

"Before, they'd complain about the local's Democratic support. Now they're getting more engaged," Brown said.

Those members aren't the only Republicans who are more engaged with Local 77 either.

"Now the legislators come to us. They know we can get things done," said Beierle, who also serves on the Idaho Labor Council. "We're seeing who we can work with, and it's a strategy that's paying off."

They even got a bill signing, the first for a labor organization in over 20 years and the largest thus far in Gov. Little's term, with 25 people in attendance, Beierle said.

"This was a huge milestone," said Brown, who got the governor's pen from the ceremony.

Local 77 is paying back that GOP support too. They endorsed Little in his re-election bid.

"It's probably unheard of in the labor world," Beierle said. "But ultimately labor is nonpartisan. We have to reach across the lines."