The Electrical Worker online
November 2023

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to
From Cirque du Soleil to Circuits and Substations

Before he became a member of Victoria, British Columbia, Local 230, Dan Headecker worked a lot of physically demanding jobs. They just tended to come with camera crews and a cheering audience.

The former gymnast, who's now an inside wireman, used to work in Cirque du Soleil's show "O" as an acrobat, which involved dives into a pool after swinging on aerial hoops and parallel bars high above the stage, often to a sellout crowd, for 10 shows a week. After doing that for eight years, he moved to Los Angeles to work as a stuntman, honing his craft on television and in movies and live shows.

"I wouldn't say I'm one to sit behind a desk," Headecker said. "But I am finding that the electrical trade brings with it new opportunities and different problems to solve. I'm enjoying the change and the chance to work more with my mind and less with my body. For career longevity, that's a good thing."

In his five years with Local 230, Headecker, who currently works as a site supervisor for Houle Electric, has had numerous opportunities to use his creative problem-solving skills, from working on a substation at the Esquimalt Graving Dock on Vancouver Island to a fire alarm upgrade at the Institute of Ocean Sciences.

"Dan has been an asset to all the crews he's worked on," said Joe Rossner, a superintendent with Houle who's known Headecker for about four years. "He has taken great strides in his career in the time that I've worked with him."

The transition to electrical work wasn't an entirely new endeavor for Headecker. The Ontario native worked different construction jobs with his dad while growing up and said he was always impressed with the electrical crews.

"The electricians I had the opportunity to be around were always smart and well put-together, and very respectful. I was constantly asking questions about what they were doing and how things were wired and how they worked," he said. "It definitely piqued my interest."

While he doesn't have the traditional resume for an electrician, Headecker said there are similarities between his previous jobs and his current work.

"The type of analytical or outside-the-box thinking that is needed when you're trying to create something new and interesting in stunts or Cirque is similar to solving some of the complex problems that might come up on a day-to-day basis as an electrician," he said. "In stunts, there might be a sequence that the director wants and the stunt team will have to collaborate on how to make it possible. In electrical, that could be working around an obstruction on a job site. In both cases, finding a way to achieve the intended goal safely and efficiently takes creativity."

Another similarity is the collaborative aspect. Headecker brings years of experience working on a team where precision and communication are paramount, whether it was trapeze work or a fight scene.

"Dan has brought a great base of life knowledge to our company that he can teach to the younger apprentices," Rossner said. "I like that he's not shy about telling me what he needs to do his job. And he's always willing to get in there with the apprentices to show them the right way to get the job done."

For Headecker, coming into the trade at a later point in his career brought challenges as well as rewards, and it's made him eager to share what he's learned with the apprentices coming up behind him.

"I remember a lot of my 'lightbulb' moments when someone was explaining something to me or showing me how to do a certain task. Being able to give that same moment to someone else is a lot of fun for me."

That affinity for working with the next generation of IBEW members, whether young or old, hasn't gone unnoticed.

"He literally gets excited to pass along his knowledge and experience, showing every day that mentorship matters," Local 230 Business Manager Phil Venoit said. "These are the traits of a real leader and brother in the IBEW."

Working on Vancouver Island has brought another perk with it: being closer to family and friends.

"It's been great being home," said Headecker, who lived in British Columbia as a teenager and still has relatives in the area. "Before, I would get back about once a year for the holidays, and I kept noticing how my family was getting older and I wasn't around to see it. Now I can see them grow up. It's been really nice."


Victoria, British Columbia, Local 230 member Dan Headecker sits high above the stage at a performance of Cirque du Soleil's show "O," where he worked for eight years as an acrobat.

Local 326 Members Earn Better Contract, Strengthen Grid

IBEW members played a pivotal role in transitioning Massachusetts' Salem Harbor Power Station from a coal-fired plant to natural gas. Lawrence Local 326 members keep it running efficiently by performing highly technical work at a superior level.

That's paying off with an improved contract and a successful organizing drive at another nearby energy facility, all while keeping the grid strong in the Bay State.

"It all comes back to the members," said Bill LePelley, who was elected business manager in June 2022.

"As I went through our files during our contract negotiation, there were no entries there [regarding problems or disciplinary issues.]. Nothing. During my first year as business manager, I never received a call about any problems."

Despite being new to the business manager role, LePelley and his staff, with help from the Second District office, negotiated a one-year extension with then-parent company Footprint Power that ensured that members covered by the agreement receive an immediate 5% increase in wages.

Later, members voted to accept a new three-year deal, which guarantees a 12.5% raise over the length of the contract. Castleton Commodities International purchased the facility earlier this year.

Employees at a Wheelabrator facility in nearby North Andover took notice. They voted to accept Local 326 representation in January. Negotiations for a first contract were ongoing as of press time.

"It's been a breath of fresh air to work with this local and the attention to detail these members bring to the job," Second District International Representative Ed Starr said. "Going into negotiations, we were able to get these people paid more of what they're worth."

Local 326 is a utility local and has about 500 members, including 18 working at the Salem Harbor plant. The original coal-burning facility was built in the 1950s and expanded several times.

Three employees, all IBEW members, were killed when a high-intensity water pipe exploded in 2007. The current plant includes a memorial to them.

Footprint purchased the facility in 2012. It was taken offline in 2014 and demolished. The new facility completed commissioning and went commercial in 2018.

Salem Harbor is what is referred to in the industry as a peaker plant, meaning that it only is used when electricity is at peak demand, usually in the winter and summer months.

Geoffrey Winn Jr., a third-generation IBEW member who has worked in the industry for 22 years and now serves as a Local 326 steward, noted that it can be online 10 minutes after being called into service and needs just 90 minutes to reach the desired output for the grid. That process took 12 hours or longer when Salem Harbor was a coal-fired facility.

"We generate electricity much faster, more efficiently and emissions are cleaner," said Winn, an operations and maintenance technician. "We're able to do it with less people. It's really night and day."

It's not work that just anyone can pull off.

The majority of IBEW members there have degrees in energy systems and facilities management. Winn credited the company for providing the necessary training for employees transitioning to a natural gas facility.

"In gas, you have a lot less people," said Winn, who transferred for 3½ years to another facility that was using natural gas before returning to Salem Harbor ahead of its recommissioning. "The technology is better. In some ways, you have more hats to wear, but you do have a lot more control of the plant through the control room."

Natural gas is much cleaner than coal but is considered a fossil fuel by the Department of Energy. However, it is a crucial technology to aid in the transition to clean energy, especially in areas underserved by solar, wind and nuclear power.

Second District Vice President Mike Monahan noted that those technologies — especially solar and wind — are underdeveloped in New England compared to most of the country. Politico reported in 2021 that about one-half of the region's power relied on natural gas. Most of that work is performed by union members.

"It's an honor to have our members operating these plants," said Monahan, who recently toured the facility. "It's good to see. It's cleaner than coal. It's cleaner than wood. It's cleaner than methane."

LePelley echoed those thoughts.

"It's a viable way of producing electricity," he said. "I don't think people realize how clean this technology is. [Salem Harbor] is the kind of place all politicians need to visit. It's good for the taxpayer, and it keeps people working with good-paying jobs."

Monahan also credited Starr and LePelley for working together to get an improved contract for the members at Salem Harbor in a short time after LePelley's election.

"We got a healthy raise, but just as important to me, we got some language in the contract that we wanted," Winn said. "We were able to put some stuff in writing that will allow us to hopefully maintain and strengthen our benefits going forward."

Besides LePelley and Winn, other Local 326 members who served on the contract negotiating team were Stephen Heath and Dave Jozokos.


Second District International Vice President Mike Monahan, left, inside the Salem Harbor Power Station with Lawrence, Mass., Local 326 steward Geoffrey Wynn Jr., an operations and maintenance technician.

'Here for Whoever Needs a Hand':
Local 43 in the Community

Members of Syracuse, N.Y., Local 43 are making a big difference in their community, from providing much-needed electrical upgrades for a local nonprofit to a high-profile role in a charity golf outing.

"Our members love to give back," Local 43 Business Manager Al Marzullo said. "And when it comes to our children, we'll do whatever we can to help."

The local's charitable work takes a number of forms. In one case, they slashed a youth center's utility bill by doing some simple electrical upgrades.

"I thank God for them," said Mary Nelson, who runs the Mary Nelson Youth Center in Syracuse, of Local 43 to WSYR, a local news outlet. "We got people in our community who care about our families."

Thanks to the efforts of some dedicated members who installed more than 60 new drop-in lights, switching them to LEDs, the center's electric bill dropped from almost $1,000 a month to just over $150.

"That high utility bill every month was my biggest operational expense," Nelson said. "I'm very grateful and thankful."

About 10 members performed the work as part of the United Way's Day of Caring in August. Marzullo said the local chose the center in part because of the relationship they had already established.

"We've been helping the center for a few years now," Marzullo said. "They're a part of our community, and they're doing a lot of hard work to make it better."

The youth center works to break the cycle of poverty by focusing on education, health, career assistance, mentorship, and direct services like free legal counseling and food giveaways. Marzullo said the nonprofit organization has been on his radar since he was introduced to Nelson by the wife of former Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim about three years ago. The Boeheims run a foundation that Local 43 is involved with, which led to the introduction. Knowing that their work has helped Nelson dedicate more funding away from costly power bills and toward its programming has been a great reward, Marzullo said.

"When she called me to tell me about the bill, she called crying," he said. "I told her, 'Mary, that's what we do.'"

For Local 43, it's just one example of its members' dedication to volunteering and helping those in need. In addition to the Day of Caring, the roughly 1,500-member local has donated approximately $60,000 to the United Way, divided among three upstate New York chapters. Other charity recipients include Habitat for Humanity and organizations focused on cancer and children with serious illnesses.

"Our members get a deep sense of pride from giving back," Marzullo said. "We don't do it because the work itself is particularly challenging. It's about getting that shared sense of community. That's really what it's all about."

Local 43 also serves as the presenting sponsor of the annual Upstate Towsley Pro-Am golf tournament along with the Finger Lakes chapter of NECA. Despite some inclement weather this year, the event, held in August, raised over $200,000 for adolescent mental health programs at Upstate Medical University.

"This is money that will go a long way toward combatting the stigma surrounding mental health, especially as it relates to our children," Marzullo said.

The event, which draws other New York IBEW locals, members of the building trades and other unions, and various businesses and community members, has special significance for Local 43 since it also honors former Business Manager Bill Towsley. Now deceased, Towsley served on the hospital's board and was widely regarded as a community leader.

"We're proud to continue Bill's legacy of contributing to our community and doing our part to be the rising ride that lifts all boats," Marzullo said. "Sometimes people think we're just a bunch of construction workers, but we're neighbors, too, and we want to help. We're here for whoever needs a hand."


Members of Syracuse, N.Y., Local 43 volunteered their services for the United Way's Day of Caring, one of many events the local participates in. "Our members get a deep sense of pride from giving back," Business Manager Al Marzullo said.

No 'Miracle' Needed:
N.Y. Electricians Ably Update Olympic Venue

When the aging site of the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y., needed modernizing, the officials who oversee the sports complex knew they could trust the IBEW's electricians from Watertown Local 910.

"This was the first major upgrade there since 1980," said Local 910 Business Manager Travis Flint of the recently completed project. "We helped the whole place get to modern international sporting standards."

Lake Placid was the home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and most of the buildings on the site were built for the 1980 games, said Assistant Business Manager Dave Hoover. The sites "had only been lightly touched" since then, he said, with routine electrical maintenance handled by Local 910 members.

Olympic venues often are torn down or abandoned afterward because it can be expensive to maintain facilities that aren't expected to be used much again, if ever. Following the 1980 games, though, U.S. Olympic officials and other organizations kept using the Lake Placid campus as a training center focusing on winter sports like bobsled, luge and skiing.

Over the past several years, to attract athletic events to Lake Placid, the state of New York has invested more than $600 million to modernize the sports campus. The strategy began to pay off in 2018 when the International University Sports Federation selected this village of 2,300 year-round residents as host of the 2023 World University Games. The biennial, 11-day competition was set to gather nearly 1,400 students representing 46 countries — the largest collection of athletes in Lake Placid since the 1980 games.

For nearly two years leading up to the university games, about 60 Local 910 electricians and apprentices, plus some travelers, worked with signatory contractors to help install new snow-making and ice-making systems, ice-melting mats for stairs and walkways, and a chair lift.

"We were under a high-stress and tight timeline," Hoover said. "One of the hardest things for us was that the site had to remain open for tourists and spectators while we worked."

On this state-managed job, which was covered by a project labor agreement, the Local 910 members also upgraded lighting systems and electrical panels in buildings such as the Herb Brooks Arena, the site of the 1980 Olympics' "Miracle on Ice."

This "miracle" took place on Feb. 22 that year, when the men's hockey teams from the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the heavily favored defending champion, competed in the semifinal medal round. As the third period wound down and the U.S. team battled successfully to hold on to its hard-fought 4-3 lead, ABC sportscaster Al Michaels exclaimed, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" The U.S. went on to win the gold medal, beating Finland in the final.

Joy-filled spectators that evening had turned whatever paper was handy, including tickets, into confetti. Hoover said that during the renovations, Local 910's electricians found a ticket stub from that game resting atop a light fixture. After some sleuthing, "we figured out who it belonged to and mailed it to them," he said.

Winter sports athletes continue to train at Lake Placid year-round. Since the World University Games, the campus has hosted major events such as the World Synchronized Skating Championships in March, and the World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships were held there. Hoover believes it's not out of the question that the U.S. could someday bid to host or co-host a third Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, placing Local 910's handiwork on display for a global stage.

Meanwhile, the site's administrators have asked the state to allocate about $150 million per year for maintenance and updates. "The renovation and upkeep of these facilities should go on for the foreseeable future," Flint said. "We're proud to be associated with a venue that has so much history and significance."


Watertown, N.Y., Local 910 members have helped modernize Olympic venues in Lake Placid like this historic hockey arena.