Pueblo, Colo., Local 12 member Eppie Griego, right with black mask, being sworn into his seat on the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners during a January ceremony.

Eppie Griego fell just a few votes short when he lost his first bid for a seat on the Pueblo County (Colo.) Board of Commissioners in 2012. That didn’t discourage him in the least.

Griego poses with family members after being sworn into his Board of Commissioners seat.

Griego, a Pueblo Local 12 member known for his high energy, made himself even more visible. He served on the county’s Planning & Zoning Commission. He also figured he had to knock on even more doors in the lead-up to last year’s Democratic primary.

“The thing about going door-to-door is you get to talk to real people,” he said. “I’m not a real email guy. If you contact me, I’ll come to your door and talk to you in person. You’ll get to hear the real issues when you’re out there.”

The strategy paid off. Last June, Griego won a close race in the primary to fill an open seat being vacated by the incumbent. He ran unopposed in the November general election and was sworn in in January, giving the IBEW and all of labor in southern Colorado an important voice in an area with a strong union tradition.

“Having an IBEW member at the table when important decisions are made is vital for working families in our community,” said Local 12 Business Manager Tom Kelley, noting that Griego sits on the local’s executive committee as well. “I can’t think of anyone better suited than Eppie. He’s lived here his entire life and his love for the area and its people is obvious. He understands that a strong union movement leads to a strong community for everyone. That’s because he’s lived that.”

Griego is one of three members of the Board of Commissioners, which oversees the county’s budget, major infrastructure projects and local government services. Colorado law requires it to have a balanced budget each year. It is a full-time position.

“I have known Eppie and his family for more than a dozen years,” said Eighth District Vice President Jerry Bellah, a former business manager at Pueblo Local 667. “I am very proud of him. He has and will continue to be a great representative of the IBEW in our community.”

Griego, 62, has been a member of several unions and became a member of Local 12 just seven years ago as a groundman. He later moved up to a ground operator position with a CDL license.

He highlighted his union credentials in the lead-up to the election. That strategy paid off in Pueblo, traditionally a strong union town because the steel industry has had a large presence there.

“I’m out in the community,” Griego said. “Being on planning and zoning really helped me. That’s a good commission dealing with land issues, so I was visible.”

Griego’s community involvement is deep. He and his wife, Rayann, have four grown children and were foster parents to nearly 150 children for more than 30 years until their own son was injured in an auto accident and needed more personal care.

“We enjoyed helping children and moving their lives forward,” he said.

Eppie Griego, a Pueblo, Colo., Local 12 member recently elected to the Pueblo County Board of Commissioners.

He previously was a member of the Laborers, Steelworkers and the United Transportation Union and was endorsed by several unions in southern Colorado. Rayann is a union member herself. She works as a psychiatric technician and is a member of Colorado WINS, a leading public-sector union in the state.

Here’s Griego’s advice for any IBEW member thinking about running for office in their communities:

First, get involved in your local union and don’t be shy about speaking up during membership meetings, even if your opinion is in the minority. Local unions are a great example of democracy at work, he said.

“In a union meeting, if you believe in something, say it,” he said.

And second, look for boards and committees to serve on. You’ll not only build confidence in yourself, he says; you’ll also get a chance to show people with little exposure to unions just how valuable they can be. Griego especially recommends the local Chamber of Commerce – and the Latino Chamber of Commerce for Latino members like himself -- because of its business focus but said any volunteer opportunity is important.

“There are so many boards in Pueblo as well as in every city across the country,” he said. “It’s important to get in on them. That’s how you get out in the community.”

Of course, Griego isn’t shaking many hands these days. Even during the campaign, he eventually had to stop handshakes. He learned to speak to people from a distance through virtual technology.

Like many public officials, he’s seen some of his plans take a backseat to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which now includes distributing the vaccines to Pueblo County residents in a timely manner.

Nearly every meeting is now held virtually. When asked what he’s learned as a politician, he joked: “To use Zoom.”

“But seriously, I am learning something new every day through policy and through my colleagues.”

He said he’s enjoyed the work and wants to make sure the community understands the vital role of unions. A particular area of interest is stressing to Pueblo’s younger population that they should explore apprenticeships instead of a costly four-year college if they are interested in working with their hands. Like most of the United States, Pueblo has a shortage of skilled construction workers and electricians.

“I want people to understand the best apprenticeship comes from the IBEW,” he said. “You get to work and make a living wage, you learn on the job and you don’t get that debt. What could be better than that?”