Based on the simple principles of eight hours’ work for eight hours’ pay, professionalism and respect, the Code of Excellence was envisioned as a way to distinguish the quality of highly-trained IBEW electricians from the work of their nonunion counterparts.
Since being unveiled in 2007, it has spread from construction to nearly every branch of the union and been attached to hundreds of high-profile projects across the U.S. and Canada.
“It was like a lightbulb coming on the first time I read about the code,” said Jersey City, N.J., Local 164 retiree Ken Bieber. “I said to myself, ‘Someone finally wrote down what we’ve been living by all these years.’”
These days, the former foreman, safety manager and inside wireman spends hours each week teaching others about the code, thanks to the support and encouragement of Local 164 Business Manager Dan Gumble and Training Director Rich Paredes.
|Jersey City, N.J., Local 164 retiree Ken Bieber with Business Manager Dan Gumble, President Tom Sullivan, and Training Director Rich Paredes. Together with other officers and staff, the local’s leadership has re-emphasized the Code of Excellence in everything they do.
“You won’t find a more dedicated guy to the Code of Excellence than Ken,” Gumble said. “And I hope you won’t find a local union more committed to the code than this one.”
The code’s importance for Local 164 is obvious immediately: at the union hall, the training center and even on job sites. Copies of it are posted everywhere, on bulletin boards, in classrooms, break rooms and in members’ toolboxes. Posters and hardhat stickers emblazoned with the local’s unofficial motto, “The Code We Live By,” are ever-present.
“We hope you can’t go anywhere without being reminded of what it means to us,” Bieber said. “That’s our main goal.”
For Gumble, like most business managers, the Code of Excellence is a sales tool as much as it is an inspirational message for his 2,900 members. “When I sit down with developers considering nonunion labor, that code is a serious selling point,” he said. “We’re selling professionalism, quality workmanship, training; with the code, it’s all there.”
Whether it’s his local’s work on the 2010 MetLife Stadium Code of Excellence project or any of their maintenance agreements in Jersey City’s booming financial district, Gumble said the code is an important part of how they do business now. “We have to go out of our way to get new customers, but it’s also incredibly important in keeping the customers we do have happy.”
For Bieber, as it is for many others, the code is deeply personal and a source of intense pride. In 2007, he began teaching a 40-hour foremanship course at Local 164’s JATC. After reading an Electrical Worker cover story announcing the expansion of the code internationally from its origins in the Eighth District, Bieber was a man on a mission.
“Back then, I started incorporating the Code of Excellence into the heart of every class I taught,” Bieber said. As an added twist, he started a signature sheet, asking each of his students to sign their names to the code. “That simple act of signing your name to something, it means so much. When you sign it, you own it.”
The sign-on program is something Bieber has shared with other locals over four years, teaching a modified version of his foremanship course at the IBEW/NECA-sponsored National Training Institute, where union members and contractors gather each year for educational and training opportunities. Recently invited back to teach the course for a fifth time in 2016, Bieber estimates he has provided sign-on materials to more than 100 different locals around the U.S. and Canada.
In 2014, with the help of Gumble, Paredes and Second District International Representative Mike D’Amico (who was then working with the Education Department), Bieber adapted his training into eight-hour and four-hour Code of Excellence courses certified by the International Office. In it, he teaches the basic principles of the code as laid out by the Education Department, but Bieber adds his own exercises, emphasizing trust and brotherhood, among other values. He is also insistent that his students take the code with them, posting copies at worksites and in toolboxes because he believes members should be constantly reminded of what they signed on to.
Between all of the local’s apprentices and students of the foremanship and Code of Excellence classes, more than 600 members have now added their names to the sign-on sheets.
But Local 164’s is hardly a unique story. “There are locals in every district who go above and beyond what the core curriculum requires,” D’Amico said. “But Local 164 is definitely one of those locals who take it to the next level. Hopefully others will see this and be inspired.”
For Education Department Director Amanda Pacheco, the lessons Local 164’s example teaches are about leadership. “It’s important to have passionate, dedicated instructors and champions for the Code of Excellence,” she said, “but it’s just as important to have strong leaders who encourage those people and give them the resources and the space to build these programs.”
Bieber said everyone around him shares his passion and works to make the code a central part of everything Local 164 does. Gumble’s support, he says, has been instrumental in growing the Code of Excellence program, along with that of Paredes, Local 164 President Thomas Sullivan, Vice President Warren Becker and countless others. He also praises the leadership of International President Lonnie R. Stephenson and President Emeritus Edwin D. Hill in raising the bar for professionalism.
“Ken’s enthusiasm really is infectious, both with his students and with the local’s leadership,” Becker said, noting positive reviews from students at the JATC and at Bieber’s annual NTI classes.
“The Code of Excellence has really changed the way we do everything around here,” Gumble said. “From apprenticeships and training to how we approach the business side of things, for our local, ‘The Code We Live By’ isn’t just words on paper. It’s the way we try to approach every aspect of our work.”
Homepage Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Chris Bickham.