Every step of the way at Trayer Switchgear near San Francisco, IBEW members treat the products they make as if their own family will use them.

Local 1245 members at Trayer Switchgear near San Francisco produce state-of-the-art components for IBEW linemen and electrical workers throughout the world.
Credit: John Storey/courtesy of Local 1245

After all, linemen around the globe who rely on the top-quality parts include the workers’ brothers and sisters at Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245.

“Our switchgear goes all over the world, but at the same time it is used by our local linemen and by most of the utilities across the country where IBEW members work,” said steward Arnaldo Lizarraga. “We make sure it is safe for them, and for the public.”

From assembly to testing, painting and packing the parts for shipping, he said members take pride in producing what he calls “the Rolls-Royce of switches.”

“When you open it, it doesn’t have to be an eyesore – the way the wires look, the way everything is connected,” Lizarraga said. “We want it to look good outside so customers won’t have any doubt about the quality inside.”

That work ethic and attention to detail is recognized by way of a strong union contract and growing transparency under new management, said Local 1245 business representative Cruz Serna.

“Out of all my 11 shops, I have a good relationship with everybody, but Trayer has been very open,” he said. “I’m able to pick up the phone and call the CEO if there’s an issue, and we try to resolve it. I’ve told him that we’re here to help, and that we can offer a lot if they work with us.”

A few months ago, Serna suggested to company President Keith Thorndyke that workers could use more recognition for jobs well done, under pressure and on deadline. “I told him employees are doing a great job. They’re working their butts off and work all the overtime that’s offered. Once in a while they’d like a high-five.”

Thorndyke took it heart, he said, visiting the assembly line to give workers the credit they deserve.

Long represented by IBEW, the Trayer workers came into Local 1245 via a merger in 2014.

“This small but mighty workgroup embodies all of the characteristics that the IBEW stands for -- commitment to excellence, unwavering dedication, collaboration, and undying brotherhood,” Local 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell said. “We're proud and honored to represent these highly skilled makers of some of the finest switchgear in the entire world."

Serna said Trayer has shown interest in entering into a formal Code of Excellence agreement with the IBEW. He and Lizarraga are signed up for COE training in November.

Meanwhile, trust continues to grow. Management has been good about giving the union a heads-up before major decisions, Serna said, and routinely calls on Lizarraga to help convey what’s ahead to the nearly 30-member unit.

Steward Arnaldo Lizarraga tests a switch at Trayer.
Credit: John Storey/courtesy of Local 1245

In June, with the clock ticking on a two-year contract negotiated in 2017, the union agreed to delay bargaining for six months to help Trayer balance the books.

“They were coming up in the red, and we know that a healthy company is better for all of us,” Serna said. “We agreed to a contract extension and they agreed to give us an update every month. And they’ve done that.”

Now, back in the black, the company is considering new hires. Serna has been gathering resumes from other IBEW shops and sending them to Thorndyke.

It’s one of the ways Trayer benefits from its union’s strong contract: superior wages and benefits mean it can attract the best possible job candidates.

“A lot of union-busting companies out there could learn from Trayer’s example,” said IBEW Director of Manufacturing Randy Middleton. “The fact is, it doesn’t make good business sense to fight your workers every step of the way. Imagine if more employers invested all that wasted money, time and negative energy into their workforce and bottom line.”

At Trayer, that investment includes a platinum medical plan covering 100 percent of medical, vision and dental. “One of the best I’ve seen,” Serna said, adding that workers increasingly have opportunities for overtime, cross-training and promotions.

They’re grateful to Trayer, and show it with hard work. But they know things wouldn’t be the same without IBEW’s efforts at the bargaining table and beyond.

“I like having the union here, they really support us,” Logan Crump, who works in the final test area, said in a story published on Local 1245’s website. “A lot of times when I’m wearing my union sweatshirt out, people will come up to me, shake my hand and say ‘Hey, how ya doin’ brother?’ With the union, we know that someone’s always got our back.”

Lizarraga, who has worked at Trayer for eight years and been a steward for six, fosters solidarity by making sure every new worker in his unit learns about IBEW’s history and values.

“I talk about what we stand for,” he said. “I tell them what we do here for security and quality and safety, and why we’re proud to be IBEW members.”