Not many cities in America have seen more ups and downs than Duluth, Minn. Located on the shore of Lake Superior, the city was once the largest port in the U.S, shipping tons of iron ore to the nation’s steel mills and lumber to fuel construction booms.
Overseas competition has severely undermined Duluth’s strategic perch. The city has never fully recovered from the 1981 shutdown of U.S. Steel’s Duluth Works, a large employer, and its budget has fallen on hard times.
Even as unemployment stays high outside the ranks of Duluth Local 242, union electricians are fully employed as a progressive governor has invested the state’s budget surplus in new infrastructure.
| Members of Duluth, Minn., Local 242 have a strong history of community engagement, including construction of two houses a year for Habitat for Humanity and recent work reviving a recreation center in Gary-New Duluth.
But Local 242 has not let its good fortune go to its head. If anything, the IBEW has deepened its history of engagement and volunteerism in the surrounding community.
A March 16 story in the Duluth News Tribune, “Western Duluth Recreation Center Sees Surge of Support,” details the work of Local 242 inside journeyman wiremen who, supported by funds from the NECA/IBEW labor-management cooperation committee, helped remodel and wire a community center in Gary-New Duluth that has been closed since 2009, a victim of budget cuts.
Jim Petrich, a 27-year member of Local 242, who led a group of electricians on the rec center job, says of the volunteer project. “It’s a way to give back to the community by providing a place for kids to play.”
The son and grandson of steelworkers, Petrich, who once played hockey in the center, told the News Tribune, “It’s a good project. It’s good for the community and good for our union.” Local members participating included Dennis Tammen, Adam Maslowski, Andrew Winn, Andrew Erickson, Jim Brown, Jim Morris and Jim Leland.
Volunteers have donated the equivalent of more than $350,000 in money, materials and labor. The building was completely gutted with all new plumbing, wiring, windows and HVAC systems installed.
“There’s not enough tax revenue to keep all the community centers in Duluth operating,” says Local 242 Business Manager Donald Smith. But, he says, “Taxpayers want their community centers to stay open.” Bolstered by volunteerism, the community center will reopen alongside two new soccer fields, a garden, a pavilion and a skating rink. And plans are in the works for a dog park, a skateboard park, hiking trails and a disc golf course.
“Local 242 members steadily contribute to our community,” says Smith. Volunteer projects include the construction of two houses a year for Habitat for Humanity. Local members have also worked on the city’s remodeled Gary-New Duluth veteran’s war memorial, Vietnam and Korean War memorials, opened three years ago, and Duluth’s 148th Air National Guard exhibit featuring the F-16 fighter jet.
“Community engagement is not just a good idea,” says International President Edwin D. Hill. “In communities like Duluth that suffer under the weight of unfair national trade policy and deindustrialization, IBEW members and our allies make a real difference in the lives of our neighbors.”