Join Us

Sign up for the lastest information from the IBEW!

Related ArticlesRelated Articles

Print This Page       Text Size:
News Publications

Denver Local 68 Focuses on
Residential Gains

November 4, 2005 (Part 2 in a series)

With new home construction busting loose in counties surrounding Denver, Colorado, leaders of IBEW Local 68 knew that they needed to get into the game.   They threw out their old playbook, studied their opposition and crafted some winning tactics.

Today, Local 68 is tackling market share on the residential field, signing contractors and recruiting new members, aided by an experimental piecework program.

The recent signings of electrical contractors Noble Electric, Vandalay Electric, Scotty's Electric, Dedicated Electric, Nobel Electric, Baltic Electric and Castro Electric have confirmed the appeal of the piecework project,  offered by Local 68 to residential contractors.  

The project came about, according to Local 68 organizer Damien Romero, when union "salts" in the field reported that open shop residential electricians were being paid based on their speed and number of units installed, sometimes boosting their take-home pay above IBEW rates.   To recruit nonunion electricians, he says, it was necessary to structure a piecework program that could maintain competitive earnings and include IBEW's superior health care, retirement and apprenticeship benefits.   Working with International Representative Ron Burke, Membership Development Department, the local developed a plan.

Local 68's piecework project is an unfunded work recovery request that enables signatory residential contractors to bid on jobs according to a fixed price for completion of work on each unit installed.

For instance, the contractor is guaranteed a total labor amount that would be required to wire a three-bedroom, one-bath model.   The contractor is then only responsible for paying out the piecework rate for the work that is completed in that workweek pay period.  The Sheet Metal Workers are also developing a residential piecework program devised for installation of HVAC systems.

Because the piecework program is an unfunded market recovery request, any agreement with an employer must be approved by Dennis Whalen, the business manager of Local 68.

Rich Ramirez, Local 68 organizer, says that Vandalay Electric is already using the piecework program.   Other contractors have expressed interest, including commercial contractors who could utilize the program on the construction of buildings that combine commercial and residential levels.

"Change is always scary, but we have to be flexible to enter the residential market," says Chris Dodson, an IBEW member and owner of Vandalay Electric who is applying the program in multi-family (condominium) work.

"The difficult part of piecework is being fair to everyone," he adds.   For the builder, the program offers a promised cost of labor and materials.   For the worker, it offers a chance to make more money and potential flexibility in work hours.

While Dodson claims that his experience with piecework is not large enough to constitute a "fair test," he is focused on devising a rate that is based upon the productivity of an average residential electrician.  To members concerned that they could be squeezed out of work by the new system, he says, "A lot of residential work, particularly in multi-family units requires proficiency with lay-out, switch gears and sub-feeds." These are functions that are not 'cookie-cutter,' he says, requiring a higher level of skill than most purely residential electricians possess.

Business Manager Dennis Whalen is banking on the new approach to build the local's share of the hot residential market in counties surrounding Denver, boosted by the building of a new mass transit system.  

"In 1980 we had 350 residential members, represented by a full-time business agent," says Whalen. The residential membership was decimated after a downturn in building in the 1980's, briefly picked up and then was leveled again.   But it wasn't just economic conditions that eroded the residential membership, he says.

"We lost members through neglect and by not changing with the times," says Whalen. "Now we have observed what is going on in the industry and are planning for growth."


Series: Breaking New Ground...

More News: