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May 2023

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Greg DeVries

When Eleventh District International Representative Greg DeVries was growing up, the Sioux Falls, S.D., Local 426 hall was like an extension of his family's house.

His father, James, was a member.

So was his grandfather James.

His older brother James was a member.

"They all had different middle names," DeVries said. "It was a family thing."

James A. (his grandfather) was business manager, and James L. raised Greg and his older brothers, James O. and John, into the trade.

His uncle William was not a James, but he was a business manager, too.

DeVries' son Jason is also a journeyman.

It's a rich and deep history that stretches back nearly as far as the trade itself on the Great Plains.

And after nearly 40 years, Greg DeVries is retiring, effective May 1.

After some time out of high school working as a groundman, DeVries had a brief flirtation with the Laborers before coming back into the fold.

It was not a hard decision.

"An electrician's work is so much better than digging ditches and pouring concrete," he said.

He started the apprenticeship in 1984, was initiated a year later — as was the tradition then — and topped out in 1988.

For the next 10 years, DeVries worked almost entirely on the road, from as far east as Cordoba, Ill., to as far west as a mine in Carlin, Nev.

"Mostly in Minnesota though," he said.

He saved trips to the coasts for vacations, mostly chasing music with his wife, Robin.

It wasn't until 1999 that he settled at home, switching his ticket to Huron, S.D., Local 1959 and hiring on at the Western Area Power Authority.

WAPA sells the power generated by 57 federally built and owned hydroelectric dams across the West from the Missouri River in Montana to the Rio Grande in Texas and the whole length of the Colorado River. That power is then delivered to utilities and industry in 15 states over 17,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines.

The IBEW represents WAPA workers in five locals and negotiates with the agency's management through Government Coordinating Council-1.

DeVries said he just wanted to see his kids more.

"I wanted something more stable, where I wouldn't be living in motels," he said.

DeVries said the work wasn't that different, just bigger. A transformer the size of a trash can is not so different from one the size of an elephant or two.

"Same physics," he said.

DeVries ran for and was elected business manager of Local 1959 in 2002, three years after joining the local. Two years after that, he was elected chairman of GCC-1. Three years later, he was reelected to both posts.

As his terms were expiring, then-International President Edwin D. Hill appointed DeVries an international representative for the Eleventh District, within a few weeks of the appointment of Eleventh District International Vice President Mark Hager.

"He became our go-to guy for all the government employees in the district and coordinating with the reps in all the other districts with WAPA entities," Hager said.

He was effective, Hager said, because he understood the complexities of the issues, of course, but it was also just who he was: good at his craft, good company and humble.

"He's a great guy," Hager said.

When he wasn't running multi-jurisdictional meetings with billion-dollar federal agencies, DeVries also serviced the smaller locals, pitching in on negotiations, grievances and arbitrations. He said some of his proudest achievements were turning around the often bitter relationships that developed with private utilities after the 2008 financial crisis.

"At one company, MidAmerican, we were constantly in grievances and arbitrations for things that had never been an issue before, sometimes two or three grievances a month. It was horrendous," he said. "The company wanted to freeze wages and was going after the pension and benefits. It was way over the top."

Over time, DeVries said, the relationship was rebuilt, not least through a Code of Excellence (called "commitments" at Berkshire Hathaway companies) that got management and labor talking again. Nitpicking managers heard from upper management to show a bit of discretion. Workers who were walking the wrong side of the line heard from the steward.

"It took time to rebuild trust, but I don't think I have been to an arbitration in at least five years," he said.

The biggest challenge he sees for the Eleventh District is making the membership understand and value the reality of political power in this country and who a union worker's friends are. New members especially, he said, must hear from their union.

"It's not the most popular thing to bring up in union meetings, I know. It is very different around here from when I was starting out. A lot less friendly," he said. "But I believe our job as union activists is to do what is right for our membership and their family and not back down. If the other stuff owns their vote, so be it, but it can't always be 'agree to disagree.'"

DeVries said he intends to stay involved politically in South Dakota, between trips to music festivals with Robin. He has his first one already planned with tickets to the Gulf Coast of Florida for May 2nd, the day after his official retirement.

"I'm looking forward to traveling without a tie," he said.

Please join the officers in wishing Brother DeVries a long, healthy and harmonious retirement.


Greg DeVries

Philip W. Young

Fifth District International Representative Philip W. Young, whose positivity and persistence helped improve the lives of thousands of IBEW members throughout the Southeast, has retired from the IBEW, effective April 1.

Originally from the southwestern Tennessee town of Toone, Young earned an associate's degree in computer engineering before taking a job at Mississippi Power and Light in 1985. He was initiated into Jackson, Miss., Local 605 three years later.

"Once I got into the local, I kind of went searching for something to do," Young said. "I knew that I wanted to do something useful."

So Young quickly became a steward. He went on to serve on the local's training, safety and negotiations committees, and in 1994 was appointed assistant business manager.

His attention to detail impressed his fellow members. "He's got a photographic memory," said current Local 605 Business Manager David Killingworth, who has known Young since 1985, when Young started working at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in suburban Jackson. "He doesn't think he does, but he remembers things from 30 years ago."

In 2010, Young was appointed Local 605's business manager and financial secretary after his predecessor, Albert May, retired. He ran unopposed for those positions when they came up for election two months later.

"He would get excited about stuff," Killingworth recalled of his friend. "He's very persistent."

When then-Fifth District International Vice President Joe Davis asked Young in 2012 to join the district office as an international representative, Young said he was somewhat torn between continuing to work at his home local and accepting an opportunity that few in the IBEW are offered.

"I thought about it for a couple days," Young said. "Once I got in and saw what I would be doing, I knew I'd made the right choice."

The Fifth District services IBEW members in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Panama Canal Zone. Across the mainland side of the district, Young specialized in professional and industrial organizing. He serviced nearly two dozen locals representing a variety of workers at utility companies, manufacturers, paper mills, television stations and other workplaces.

Young said one of his biggest challenges was that most of the locals under his purview were led by part-time business managers who were dealing with 30 to 80 members. With that in mind, Young said, he made himself available to help them out anytime, day or night.

And he was called on for help quite a bit, Young said. Like most district office international representatives, Young spent a lot of time on the road, sometimes driving as much as nine hours to reach a particularly far-flung local. To him, however, it was all worth it because he knew it was helping members.

"He's always happy and laughing. He has a good disposition," fellow Fifth District International Representative Glenn Brannen said of Young. Working on things like workshops, conferences and district progress meetings, "he was always eager to dive in and do the work."

Among his many achievements over his nearly 40-year IBEW career, Young noted modestly that he successfully helped to organize and gain a first contract for workers at such companies as Mississippi Power, SAIC and Entergy Nuclear.

"When you try to negotiate a first contract, you don't ask about crazy stuff," Young advised. "You just want to be treated like everyone else."

"He's about as good a fellow as you'd want to deal with," Killingworth said. "He's through and through a union man. His dedication is absolute."

In retirement, Young's priority will be his family, but he also plans to improve his golf game.

"I enjoyed being a rep, but for the last 11 years, I've been away from home four to five nights a week," Young said. He and his wife, Terri, plan to do a lot of traveling around the country, with some of those journeys being short-hop trips to visit his three children and six grandchildren. "They'll finally be able to see their granddad," he said.

The officers and members of the IBEW wish Brother Young a long and happy retirement.


Philip W. Young