The Latino population in northwestern Ohio has risen steadily over the last 40 years. For Toledo,Ohio, Local 8’s Ricardo Jiménez, this presents a rich recruiting opportunity that can help the IBEW grow as well.

The members of Toledo, Ohio, Local 8’s Latin Labor Council. Standing, from left: Jimmy Canales, Justino Covarrubias, David Gloria, Raul Jiménez, Patricio Covarrubias, Raul Arredondo, Andre Montoya, Scott Diefenbach, Ricardo Espino and Walter Cordero. Front row, from left: Mateo Cordero, John Avalos, David Gloria and Ricardo Jiménez.

“We didn’t see many other minorities or Latinos getting into Local 8, so we decided to form a diversity organization,” he told La Prensa, a newspaper serving the area’s Hispanic and Latino communities.

With that in mind, Jiménez gained the approval of Local 8’s leaders three years ago to create a Latin Labor Council with a mission to encourage school-age Latinos in the region to consider training for the trades as a viable alternative to attending college — especially since steady electrical worker jobs can provide solid middle-class incomes.

“Most of these kids don’t know anything about the skilled trades,” he said.

Local 8 represents more than 2,000 men and women across 10 counties in northwestern Ohio plus the three southern Michigan counties that share a border with the Buckeye State.

Since the council was founded, Jiménez and his fellow members have focused their efforts on staffing information tables and delivering presentations during career days and other similar events throughout the region.

“We have a four-inch thick pamphlet that lists the area’s grade schools and high schools,” he said, adding that his group also has spoken to students at the University of Toledo, at Bowling Green State University, and at career and job fairs.

Recently, the Latin Labor Council’s information table was front and center at the SeaGate Convention Center during the Toledo public school system’s first-ever Career Connect Expo in January. Of the nearly 2,000 students in attendance, Jiménez estimated about 10 percent were Latino.

And as the demand for jobs in the building trades grows, the council acknowledges that there is some urgency behind and effort to broaden the local’s recruiting efforts.

“A lot of our baby boomers are going to retire soon,” Jiménez said, “and right now, we have more work than we can handle.”

In fact, Site Selection magazine, for the second year in a row, ranked Toledo third among mid-sized U.S. cities for economic development. Many of Local 8’s members have found steady, local jobs thanks to a couple of so-called “mini-mills” coming on line to process iron ore and scrap steel, along with a growing demand for solar panel installation and ongoing work at area schools and at a nearby oil refinery.

The Latin Labor Council casts as wide a net as possible, but it gives special attention to those students who’ve taken some electrical classes in high school. Acknowledging that an electrical career is not for everyone, the council aims to ensure that more young men and women at least consider it.

“We discuss what we do,” Jiménez said. “Then we discuss benefits and pension funds, insurance, how much apprentices make. That’s pretty much what sells them.”

Local 8 also highlights its joint apprenticeship and training committee facility, where apprentices can receive a paycheck and enjoy pension and health benefits while they learn job-critical skills. Jiménez contrasts that with the growing number of college students who often are starting their careers saddled with thousands of dollars of loan debt.

“We’ve gotten a real positive response,” he said. “A lot of people are coming to us, and the schools are so happy that we stepped up like this.”

But the committee’s outreach is only part of the equation, Jiménez said. There also is an expectation for the students to reach back.

“We’ll pull them along, but they’ve got to want it,” he told La Prensa. “They’ve got to come hear us out on what’s expected.”

Since its inception, the Latin Labor Council has enjoyed full support from the JATC and from the local’s officials, some of whom serve alongside rank-and-file members on the council’s leadership committee.

“Our council is a diverse organization that’s open to all Local 8 members,” Jiménez said.

Jiménez also noted that that the council’s members perform a lot of outreach work on their own time, and considering the local’s workload — “Almost everybody’s working six 10’s,” he said — it’s sometimes a sacrifice for council members to take the time off to staff a job fair.

Their efforts have been worthwhile, said Local 8 Business Manager Roy Grosswiler. “Since Ricky started it, he’s had a lot of success reaching out,” Grosswiler said. “It can be a challenge, but we are getting applicants. He and his group are doing a really good job.”

The Latin Labor Council’s mission in Toledo also aligns with the international union’s goal to better represent the increasing diversity of North America’s workforce.

“Programs like the one at Local 8 not only help the IBEW grow,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, “they also help our union more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities where we live and work. We need everyone we can to help us meet the growing demand for skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen across North America. Making sure we’re reaching every young person in our communities is a win-win.”