Good salary. Nice benefits. A decent boss. What more can you ask for in a job?
That was the challenge faced by IBEW organizer Frank Muia in 2005 when trying to convince 45 electricians at Stilsing Electric in Rensselaer, N.Y. to join Local 236.
|After 10 years, Stilsing Electric joins the IBEW as a signatory contractor, bringing 45 new members to the Brotherhood.
Stilsing had earned a reputation as a solid contractor with a skilled workforce and a niche in municipal and transportation projects as well as traffic signal work. Its jurisdiction includes much of upstate New York: northern, central and eastern parts, as well as the Hudson Valley. The name “Stilsing” is known; the business dates back to the 1950s when owner Kathy Stilsing’s father-in-law founded it.
“Stilsing is a very good company,” said George Gipp, a journeyman wireman and employee. “They always take care of us.”
“When we first met, Frank would explain what the union had to offer, but I wasn’t buying it,” Stilsing said. “I needed to see that the union would not only provide me with quality labor but also support me as a contractor. And I needed our employees to feel comfortable taking the plunge with me.”
So Muia kept the conversation going.
“Whenever she had a question we’d answer it,” said Business Manager Mark Lawrence of Syracuse, N.Y., Local 1249, one of the three locals involved, along with New City, N.Y., Local 363.
“But she needed to make sure her employees were on board. She’s very devoted to them.”
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” said Jim Eitleman, a groundman and foreman who has been with the company for four years. “It’s the beginning of a career for me.”
“Because of how Stilsing was doing business, already offering benefits and fostering loyalty, it didn’t make sense for this to be a bottom-up campaign,” said Third District International Representative Keenan Eagen. “This was going to be a top-down effort.”
The demands of the construction market in upstate New York also played a role. Stilsing wasn’t able to bid on larger projects because she didn’t have enough electricians.
“I saw where the labor market was heading,” Stilsing said. “If we wanted to stay on course with our current workload, I would have to make a change.”
When you’re nonunion, your workforce is the people on your payroll. With IBEW, you have a hiring hall of experienced wiremen. Your workforce is unlimited.
“As a foreman for the company, I understand the stress of trying to make deadlines with a minimum of employees,” Gipp said. “And times get tight in the summer. With IBEW, we get as much help as we need.”
Eventually, there weren’t any more concerns. But Stilsing still needed to make sure everyone was with her. So Muia and staff from Locals 236 and 1249 put together a presentation for all Stilsing employees. They would get pensions and each person was able see their retirement benefits get based on their age. It was a personal touch that worked.
“As a younger guy, the pension looks great,” Eitleman said. “It’s phenomenal really. My dad works there too, and even his is good.”
Another factor that helped Stilsing was a long-time friend and fellow contractor, George Schupp. His father and Stilsing’s father-in-law started out in business around the same time. The families have always been close. Schupp joined IBEW as a signatory in 2014.
“We’ve had a great experience with the union,” Schupp said. “IBEW sends out the right people for the job. I can’t say enough about the training. And it’s given me more business.”
Schupp even attended the swearing-in ceremony for the Stilsing employees. He was joined by Local 236 Business Manager Mark A. Lajeunesse, Local 1249 Business Manager Mark Lawrence and International Vice President Don Siegel, who performed the swearing in for the new members. Of the 45, 20 joined Local 236 and 25 joined Local 1249.
“This win was a long time coming and it’s the product of a concerted effort by a lot of talented and committed people,” Siegel said. “And it will benefit everyone involved, the members, the IBEW and Stilsing Electric.”
“It was really a team effort,” Lajeunesse said. “It was a long process, but it paid off.”
“This campaign shows how organizing is a marathon, not a sprint. And you don’t stop running until you win,” said Local 363 Business Manager Samuel Fratto III. “This is also a good example of local unions working together for a common goal, and we all benefitted from that cooperation.”
In fact, it’s already started to pay off. Stilsing has put in calls for about seven journeymen and one apprentice so far, for projects at a wastewater treatment plant, a prison and Stratton Air National Guard Base.
“We all decided that this was the best move for the company, and so far it’s been a good one,” Eitleman said.