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March 2023

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John O'Rourke

John O'Rourke, hailed as a collaborative, kind and driven leader who steered a surge in West Coast membership and signatory contractors, retired March 1 as Ninth District international vice president.

"When you love what you do, it's hard to leave," O'Rourke said. "I'm so proud of this district, so proud of the team we have here in the Ninth — our staff and our business managers. I couldn't have worked with a higher caliber of people."

When he took the helm in October 2014, after 13 years as business manager of San Francisco Local 6 and two years as an international representative, the district had roughly 128,00 members across California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, northern Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii.

Under his watch, the rolls grew by more than 20%. "We're right now on the cusp of 155,000 members," he said, heaping praise on organizers and local leaders.

The warmth and respect are mutual.

"John is truly loved by the Ninth District staff," said International Representative Dominic Nolan, O'Rourke's executive assistant. "He is the most welcoming person. He's laser focused on what he wants to accomplish, but he genuinely wants to hear everyone's thoughts and feedback. He brings infectious energy and positive encouragement to everything he does."

Dave Reaves, O'Rourke's successor, similarly praised his former boss, calling him a friend and mentor.

"John really cares for everyone on his staff and in the district, and he will do whatever it takes to help you succeed," said Reaves, most recently a Ninth District representative and previously business manager of Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547. "He pushes people to get out of their comfort zones and asks them to find ways to do more, but he's always there for you."

O'Rourke was born and raised in San Francisco, the middle child of seven and son of a city firefighter who helped his children appreciate the power of organized labor.

"My father was an active union member in Local 798, and we'd go out and do door hangers for political action," he said. "We kind of knew the way it worked, the importance of ballot initiatives and things that the firefighters fought for. Their union issues were bread-and-butter issues for us as a family."

As a teenager, O'Rourke hawked concessions at 49ers and Giants games and worked his first union job, clerking at a Lucky Supermarket. Meanwhile, his older brother was a journeyman wireman at Local 6 and nudged O'Rourke in that direction. He signed on a year after graduating from high school, followed by his two younger brothers.

He is the last of his siblings to retire, but Local 6 is still full of O'Rourkes: his son, Rory; son-in-law; three nephews; a niece; and his daughter, Emily, who is both an electrician and for the past 11 years a firefighter. Now a lieutenant, her father said with pride, she has dual membership in both venerable San Francisco locals.

After his four-year apprenticeship and six years in the field, O'Rourke landed a seat on the executive board while still a "youngster" by Local 6 standards. He went on to serve as vice president and president before being elected business manager in 1999.

His tenure was a whirlwind of bargaining, with the IBEW controlling a high market share of the city's electrical work. On top of construction, contracts included shipyards, transit, city and county workers, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco's newspapers

"You'd be done and go, 'Thank goodness that's over,' and then there was the next one," O'Rourke said. "In one week, I could be at three different tables."

Time after time, it paid off. "I loved what I did because the tangible effect was that I put more money in our members' pockets and expanded their health and welfare benefits," he said. "I took great pride in always seeking to improve on what we had. Good was never good enough."

To this day, Nolan said, "Local 6 members talk about the great contracts and benefits he negotiated, and of course they always say how much they miss him."

Union density was another story when O'Rourke moved to the Ninth District staff in 2012 and began servicing locals outside the city that were struggling to sign contractors.

Early on as vice president — he was appointed in 2014, elected in 2016, and reelected last year — he brought together organizers and business managers to develop a policy that gives nonunion contractors a trial run.

"I made it a goal to tear down the impediments to signing with us, to take away any reason for contractors to say no," he said. "We made believers out of a lot of them. It's opened the door and given so many workers who were not unionized what we have in the IBEW."

Beyond the financial rewards, O'Rourke said, he's always told would-be members that the IBEW "is an extended family, and if you become part of the IBEW, you become part of that family."

He "lives and breathes" those values inside the union and beyond, Nolan said.

"You can't walk down the streets of San Francisco without someone stopping John because they know him or his family or want to talk to him about the IBEW and organized labor. He knows everyone," Nolan said. "And he always wants to know how you're doing and how your family is doing."

In his retirement, O'Rourke is looking forward to more fishing, hunting, skiing and motorcycle riding. But he's especially eager for more family time, including activities with his grandchildren, ages 5 and 8, and traveling with his wife, Elaine.

The officers, staff and members of the IBEW thank Brother O'Rourke for his years of dedicated service and wish him a happy and healthy retirement.


John O'Rourke

Dave Reaves

Dave Reaves, who earned a reputation as an innovative and skillful business manager in his native Alaska and more recently as a servicing representative on the West Coast, has been appointed as Ninth District international vice president.

Reaves took the reins March 1 from his newly retired predecessor, John O'Rourke, who led the district for eight years.

"I really feel the weight of history in the Ninth District and all that John and Mike Mowery before him accomplished," Reaves said, describing a legacy of growth and inclusion. "My vision going forward is continuing that, pushing the limits of where we can go as the IBEW."

A journeyman lineman out of Anchorage Local 1547, Reaves did telecom line work and outside construction throughout Alaska. He experienced the breadth of the IBEW's sectors as business manager of the eclectic statewide local, which includes wiremen, linemen, tree trimmers, telecom workers, public employees and more.

He led the local for four years until 2021, when O'Rourke hired him as an international representative in the Pacific Northwest.

"I'm able to walk out the door with great confidence," O'Rourke said. "I studied Dave when he was a business manager. You watch, you listen, and I saw a guy who embraced what we do here and who works well with everyone. He's an organizer, he understands the need to continue to grow and to never say, 'This is good enough.'"

Marcie Obremski, who succeeded Reaves at the top of Local 1547, called her longtime friend and colleague "an incredible leader" who is widely popular and respected — from the IBEW to larger labor and political circles to community sports leagues as a football and basketball coach.

"Dave leads by example," Obremski said, describing him as deliberative, fair, inclusive and full of positive energy. "He's extremely savvy and smart, but he's also humble. He has no ego, zero. He never speaks bad about anyone."

She saw him grow ever more creative and ambitious as an organizer, citing the IBEW's Veterans Early Electrical Entry Program, which originated at Local 1547. Known as VEEP, it is a partnership with the military that allows service members at U.S. bases to train as first-year apprentices during their final six months of duty.

"We're at just the tip of the iceberg with it," Reaves said. "There are 68 military bases in the Ninth District, and other ancillary and federal installations. It's a workforce that's really untapped."

Expanding VEEP is one of his missions as the IBEW nationally takes an aggressive approach to organizing — growth vital to meet the exploding demand for skilled labor as money pours in from the infrastructure bill, Inflation Reduction Act and other job-creating investments under President Joe Biden.

"We've all seen a lot of open calls in all classifications, and to fill that workforce, we're going to have to do things differently and think outside the box," Reaves said.

In the Ninth District, that means building on fertile strategies, such as a program launched by O'Rourke and since adopted by the union at large that woos nonunion contractors by giving them a year to test the waters as signatories.

"They've heard all the anti-union rhetoric, and they're leery," said Reaves, who began using the transitional agreements to win over contractors while he was a business manager. "But once they experience what's in it for them, they see the value of working with us."

A long list of other tactics for growth includes "capturing EV buildout, solar, offshore wind, battery storage, grid modernization and upgrade work, and providing any workforce training needed," he said. "Additionally, we're looking to build certifications for some of the new technologies to make sure that work is done by IBEW members."

Reaves' family is from the Deep South, but his parents put down roots in Alaska when his father was stationed at an Army base there. A musician, his father also performed with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and went on to work in the construction industry while his mother worked in the school system and raised their four children.

A star athlete in high school, Reaves attended Southwestern Oregon Community College and Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Ore., on basketball scholarships and studied business and criminal justice. He addition to his love of team sports, he is also an avid outdoorsman whose pastimes include hiking, skiing, hunting and camping.

His path to the IBEW started with a job in the oil and gas industry after college. One day on the north slope of Alaska, he got to talking with his future father-in-law, a Local 1547 lineman who inspired him to apply for an apprenticeship. He was initiated into the union in 1997. "I knew I had found my career," he said.

While Reaves works out of the Ninth District's San Francisco headquarters, his family — wife, Tricia, and their three sons, one grown and two teenagers — will remain in Alaska for now. He said he's already a practiced long-distance commuter between years flying to far-flung locals across his home state and to and from the West Coast as a representative.

He said O'Rourke and his executive assistant, International Representative Dominic Nolan, have been invaluable tutors, and Reaves is grateful that Nolan is staying on in that role, effectively chief of staff, until his retirement next year.

"I've got big shoes to fill, and that can be daunting," he said. "But it's also exciting."

The IBEW sends its congratulations and best wishes to Brother Reaves as he begins his new job.


Dave Reaves

Ryan Reithel

Ryan Reithel, an energetic unionist who overcame early adversity, has been appointed senior executive assistant to International Secretary-Treasurer Paul A. Noble, effective Jan. 4.

"Our styles are very similar," said Reithel of Noble. "It's full throttle 24/7. We feed off each other's energy."

Reithel hails from a union family that included workers with the IBEW, Teamster and Boilermakers, and well as Machinist father. "I was born and raised with a blue collar, and I've always been intrigued by the electrical industry and construction," he said.

It was a tougher climb than most for Reithel, a native of Merrillville, Ind. When he was 13, what doctors at first dismissed as growing pains were diagnosed as tumors resulting from Stage 4 Burkitt lymphoma, a rare cancer. After seven months of intensive chemotherapy in Chicago, an hour's drive away, the cancer was declared in remission, and Reithel has been cancer-free ever since.

He took electrical shop classes at Merrillville High School, something that helped him decide that an electrical career and IBEW membership would be a good fit for him after he graduated in 1995. One year later, Reithel was initiated into Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697.

"I interviewed Ryan for his apprenticeship," said IBEW Director of Business Development Ray Kasmark, a former Local 697 business manager who sat on the local's joint apprentice training committee at the time. "He was fairly young, but he had worked his way through high school at a union grocery bagging job."

That work experience helped Reithel stand out. "And from there, he did nothing but excel," Kasmark said.

Reithel then worked the tools at Sweney Electric in Merrillville from 2000 until 2008 and was an area foremen before becoming a full-time business representative for Local 697. He also served as an organizer for the local and in 2017 was elected business manager.

He was constantly involved with Local 697, he said, also working volunteer picnics and parades. "I never missed a meeting," he said. "I felt an instant connection with the IBEW."

Among Reithel's biggest accomplishments with the local was helping to leverage the IBEW's Code of Excellence to form a partnership with M.J. Electric that secured jobs for about 200 local members at the BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., at a time when such jobs were hard to find. He also looks back with pride at his local's work on the landmark Centier Bank building in Merrillville.

It was during his time as a Local 697 leader and activist that he met the future international secretary-treasurer. "Paul was the [Sixth District] desk rep, and if you ever needed anything, it was 'better call Paul." The two instantly began to develop a good working relationship, he said.

With the approval of International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, Sixth District International Vice President David J. Ruhmkorff asked Reithel to join his district's staff in 2021 as a service representative for Indiana.

When Ruhmkorff retired in 2022, the International Executive Council appointed Noble to fill the vacancy, just a few weeks before Chicago and the Sixth District were set to host the IBEW's 40th International Convention. "My new assignment was to assist Paul," Reithel said. "We worked together three weeks in a row, nonstop."

Reithel added: "He's like a tool partner in the field. We just took on the fires as they were coming."

Kasmark said Reithel's appointment as Noble's senior executive assistant speaks volumes.

"With Ryan, everything's organized. He's detail-oriented and very passionate, but he doesn't get upset at the little things," Kasmark said. "And he's not afraid to innovate, which makes him perfect for the job."

Noble agreed. "You can't get much more of a tryout than helping a brand-new vice president deal with the day-to-day chaos of an international convention," he said. "I knew that Ryan would be up to the task then, and I know he's up to the task of helping me out here and now."

Reithel is enthusiastic about his new role. "What I like about this job is that I'm consistently in motion," he said. "The international secretary-­treasurer manages every penny in and out of the IBEW and our benefit funds. There's billions of dollars under his watch."

The transition to life in Washington, D.C., has been smooth for Reithel and his wife, Amy, a dental hygienist who quickly found opportunities. "Amy is 100% supportive of the IBEW," he said. "I couldn't do this without her."

Reithel describes hunting, the outdoors and their German Sheppard, Gianna, as his "relaxation passions." He's also a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan who developed a grudging appreciation for the crosstown White Sox after the team's star third baseman, Robin Ventura, visited him in the hospital while he underwent his cancer treatment. The two formed a friendship that endures to this day.

Please join the IBEW's officers and staff in welcoming Reithel to the International Office and wishing him well in his new position.


Ryan Reithel

Louie Spencer

International President Kenneth W. Cooper appointed Director of Per Capita Membership Louie Spencer to be his assistant and deputy chief of staff, effective Jan. 4.

"If you would have told me 15 years ago that I would be here today, I wouldn't have believed it," Spencer said. "But even though it was never in my plan, I see it as really just a way to continue to help serve the IBEW."

Growing up in Scottsbluff, Neb., Spencer had little direct experience with unions, although he did learn early what a scab is. During a national strike by UPS employees represented by the Teamsters, Spencer had considered applying for a job as a temporary replacement worker, but his grandmother forbade it. "Like hell you are," she told him. "You are not crossing a picket line. You will not be a scab."

After high school, Spencer spent four years in the U.S. Army, where he was trained as a paratrooper. In 2002, he returned to Scottsbluff and took a seasonal job as an equipment operator with the nearby city of Gering.

Not long after that job became permanent, some of Spencer's co-workers asked him to be part of a volunteer organizing committee. He wound up serving as one of the its coordinators. While the nearly unanimous election to join Grand Island, Neb., Local 1597 went quickly, "it took 2 1/2 years and two court appearances to get a first contract," he said. Spencer went on to serve as chairman and chief steward of his bargaining unit.

"That organizing drive was my first practical introduction to what a union was," said Spencer, who was initiated into the IBEW and Local 1597 in 2006.

Having developed a taste for union service and activism, Spencer told Local 1597's leaders that he wanted to continue to serve the IBEW in a way that put his interests to use, so they began sending him to district progress meetings and training sessions.

"I like helping the IBEW," Spencer said. "For me, it's a passion, not a job. It's a way of life."

In 2010, his local sent him to the AFL-CIO's first Next Up summit in Washington, D.C., for young union members, an experience that helped fuel his passion further. Three years later, he applied to be a lead organizer for the Eleventh District, serving western Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. He was appointed to that position by International President Edwin D. Hill that August.

"I thought he was a great guy who had a lot of energy. He's not afraid to work hard," said Eleventh District International Representative Rich Michel. Michel and Spencer got to know each other when Spencer was at Local 1597, and they became close friends as they worked at the district office on several organizing campaigns.

International President Lonnie R. Stephenson brought Spencer to the International Office in 2017 to serve as an international representative in the Membership Development Department. There, Spencer worked on numerous successful organizing campaigns, such as at DirecTV, Baltimore Gas and Electric, and Atlanta Gas Light.

The following year, Stephenson reassigned Spencer to work in the Per Capita Membership Department, which keeps track of the union's active and retired IBEW members. By 2019, Stephenson had promoted Spencer to department director, where Spencer continued efforts to leverage technology to help keep the department efficient, including implementing the IBEW digital membership application platform.

"Taking care of members is exactly what I wanted to do," Spencer said.

Spencer believes he will be continuing that care through his support of Cooper and Chief of Staff Ricky L. Oakland.

"When I was international secretary-treasurer, Per Capita Membership was one of the departments under my direct supervision," Cooper said. "I saw firsthand what a great job Louie did as that department's director, so I knew he was the right person to help hold down the fort for me now as international president, doing the business of this great union."

Oakland agreed. "President Cooper is on the road a lot," he said, "and when the time came to select someone to help make sure that no part of this union gets overlooked, whether he's at home or away, he and I both were certain that Louie was that someone."

Michel added: "I think he's going to do great in this new job. When he's ready to go, he's ready to go."

Spencer holds degrees in business administration and secondary education and has also studied middle school education. He is an advisor for the IBEW Veterans Committee, a member of the Union Sportsmen's Alliance where he enjoys fishing and boating, and he is a diehard University of Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. Spencer and his wife, Jonna, have two children, Kaeden and Macy. Kaeden is a second-generation paratrooper, currently serving in the Army's distinguished 82nd Airborne division.

The officers and staff of the IBEW join the membership in wishing Brother Spencer the best of luck as he takes on this new role.


Louie Spencer

Dave Fenton

Dave Fenton was appointed director of the Per Capita Department, effective Jan. 4. It's a position to which he brings a multitude of experience, from his time as business manager of Brockton, Mass., Local 223 to his appointment as an international representative in the Per Capita Department.

"Dave is one of the most committed IBEW members I've ever met," said Louis Spencer, who preceded Fenton as Per Capita Department director and is now assistant to the international president and deputy chief of staff. "And he's an even better person in general."

Brother Fenton was initiated into Taunton Local 235 in 1987, shortly before it was amalgamated with Local 223 in 1988. He served as both treasurer and president before being appointed business manager in 2009. He then won election three more times as business manager and financial secretary before being appointed as an international representative in 2019.

"When I heard that Dave was asked to be a rep, I said, 'If there was anybody made for that job, it was Dave,'" said Local 223 Business Manager Doug Nelson, who's known Fenton since their time working together in the '90s. "He's computer-savvy, he's good with numbers, and when he gets into something, he gets in deep."

Fenton served for a time in the Construction and Maintenance Department in 2022 but was primarily assigned to Per Capita, where he worked closely with Spencer.

"He has a good attention to detail, and he's really good at finding the small things," Spencer said. "He's also tech-savvy. He isn't afraid of it and will explore new ways to do things better."

As director, Fenton oversees a staff of 17 that processes the monthly reports from locals. The department also keeps track of membership records, processes all payments from locals and members paid directly to the International Office and works with locals on any type of training needed for their officers and staff to process the per capita for the local.

"You hear new members say, 'Joining the IBEW was the best decision that I ever made.' I heard that many times while I was business manager," Fenton said. "Now, as a part of the Per Capita Department, I'm part of a team that is responsible for all the members' records, from the time that they join until their retirement. We owe it to these members that made a choice to join the IBEW that their history is as accurate as it can be."

Spencer also said that Fenton is a good listener, which is a valuable skill to have in his new role.

"You have to have the ability to talk to people in Per Capita. It's kind of like being an organizer," Spencer said. "He knows how to treat people with respect and dignity, and he focuses on getting the job done."

Fenton comes in at a good time for the Per Capita Department, as it has undergone some major technology changes over the past few years. Those upgrades have helped the locals not only in their monthly reporting but also in the storing of reports and members' records electronically.

"I do enjoy challenges, and I am not afraid to do something different than the way that we have always done it," Fenton said. "I look forward to seeing what other technology enhancements are on the horizon for the department."

Fenton noted how his time in leadership at Local 223 also gave him some good experience for running the Per Capita Department.

"While business manager and financial secretary, it was my responsibility to make sure the payments were sent in monthly. As the Per Capita director, I know what is required by the constitution on reporting and sending in your report as a local," he said. "As someone who has been on the local side, I feel that I will be able to assist other locals with any issues they're having."

Another accomplishment that Fenton can claim from his time as business manager was Local 223's purchase of a new building. They went from a 10,000-square-foot facility without any dedicated training space to more than 33,000 square feet with about 25,000 of that for state-of-the-art training.

"He was instrumental in getting that new building," Nelson said. "It was difficult a lot of the time, but it was one of most important things he did."

Prior to his appointment as an international representative, Fenton was a panel member of the Council on Industrial Relations for five years and served as the Second District representative for the Electrical Training Alliance.

When not working, the Taunton native likes to walk around his new home of Washington, D.C., including the Georgetown waterfront along the Potomac River.

On behalf of the membership, officers and staff, we wish Brother Fenton all the best in his new role.


Dave Fenton