Teresa Baranowski was an excellent student and standout soccer player at Lake Central High School in northwest Indiana near Chicago
|Local 697 member Baranowski, a journeyman wireman, on the job in her home jurisdiction. She is the winner of the Union’s Power America People’s Choice Award.
|Chester, Pa., Local 654 member Steven Tyson won the $40,0000 grand prize in the Unions Power America Sweepstakes.
She was accepted into St. Mary's, a women's liberal arts college affiliated with Notre Dame, with plans to study forensic science.
"But I went to this apprenticeship school for electricians, and I found that it was far more fascinating and $100,000 cheaper," she told the Lake Central school newspaper during her senior year in 2014, referring to a visit she made to the IBEW local in her area.
"With this, I will be working hands on and learning at the same time. I want to get ahead of life rather than be set back in debt."
Nearly a decade later, Baranowski is a journeyman wireman and member of Gary and Hammond, Ind., Local 697 and the winner of the Unions Power America People's Choice Award by Union Plus, along with the $10,000 prize that goes with it. She is one of four IBEW members who were winners in Union Plus' annual contests, including Chester, Pa., Local 654 member Steven Tyson, the $40,000 grand prize winner of the Unions Power America Sweepstakes.
Baranowski already has worked as a general foreman. She recently became an instructor in Local 697's night classes after attending the National Training Institute in Ann Arbor, Mich.
She also is a leader in RENEW and the Women's Committee, helping to attract more women to the trades. She's involved in several projects in the community with her IBEW brothers and sisters, making a concerted effort to get younger apprentices more involved in Local 697.
All that good work was recognized with the Union Plus Award. Baranowski was one of four finalists for the honor, based on having an inspiring story of compassion and community service. She was chosen in a vote of union members across the country.
"She's kind of the ideal member," Local 697 Business Manager Phil Hernandez said. "Even when she was an apprentice, she showed an interest in volunteering. She thrives on the job. People have nothing but praise for her work ethic. There's not enough positive things you can say about her."
Baranowski grew up in a union family. Her father is a Bricklayers member, and her mother works for an accounting firm used by unions in northwest Indiana.
When she was 16, she tagged along when her mom took her younger brother for a visit to Local 697's hall, thinking it might spark an interest in him becoming an electrician.
Instead, the brother went to college and earned an engineering degree. The older sister had a blast and knew what she wanted to do.
"I really liked working on cars in high school," Baranowski said. "When I went on that tour, I knew this was the place for me.
"Then, when they told me I could get an associate degree in applied science and get certified in welding so I could work in the mills and the refineries around here, it was like getting a double degree. That was awesome."
Baranowski was a founder of the local's Women's Committee, which is called the Sisters of 697. Local 697 has doubled its number of women members during the committee's four years of existence, she said.
"When I got in, I was the only female in my [apprenticeship] class," Baranowski said. "Now, it seems like there are two or three in every class. We want to keep that going."
The committee members sponsor an annual fishing outing, with proceeds going to a Local 697 member in need. They put up a pallet in the union hall for members to donate items to an emergency facility for abused women and their children, then loaded the goods into trucks and delivered them. They brought Halloween bags to children staying there during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They have collected clothes for a nearby homeless shelter. They brought gifts and gift cards for children staying at another shelter that burned to the ground. They volunteer their time to upgrade electrical work at public parks, veterans' homes and citizens in need.
"If there is someone who reaches out to us and they need us, we try to do the best we can to help them," she said.
Former Local 697 Business Manager Ryan Reithel, who now serves as senior executive assistant to the international secretary-treasurer, said Baranowski is an ideal member to emulate.
"It's almost impossible to duplicate Teresa's loyalty and dedication," Reithel said. "I've known her since she applied for our apprenticeship. She graduated at the top of her class. She volunteered for every single event and fundraiser. She went to every single union meeting. She worked industrial and commercial and worked her way up to foreman and general foreman."
Baranowski wasn't the only inside journeyman wireman to win big with Union Plus.
Tyson, a 20-year member of Local 654, saw an email promoting the contest. He figured: "What the heck. It doesn't hurt to enter."
He got one of the biggest surprises of his life when he drove up to his home in Pottstown, Pa., one day in late August and was greeted by a Union Plus film crew with a giant check for $40,000.
"It wasn't my birthday, and I see all these party favors," he said. "Then this lady started walking toward me."
The moment was shown during a Union Plus webcast on Labor Day. Just a few seconds after learning he had won the award and giving the presenter a hug, Tyson turned his back to the camera and showed off his Local 654 shirt.
"I want to represent," he said.
Tyson said Union Plus officials told his wife, Bonni, that they would be coming by the home because he had won $5,000. She did her part by keeping it a secret — then got a stunner herself when she saw that her husband won the grand prize.
"We were both very, very surprised," he said. "The people doing [the check presentation], the people from Union Plus, they were great. I felt they were genuinely happy for me. Just a great experience."
Tyson and his wife have two daughters. They used part of the money to pay off debts, including those left over from the wedding of one of the daughters last summer. They also used it to pay for a cruise they took the following week and for an Alaskan cruise they are taking next April.
"My wife is a cancer survivor," he said. "We know the deal. Nothing is guaranteed. If there is something we want to do, we do it."
It's another chapter in a satisfying IBEW career for Tyson. After high school, he attended community college and worked nonunion when his girlfriend at the time directed him to someone looking to hire an electrician.
That person told him about the IBEW and put him in touch with an organizer. He got into the Local 654 apprenticeship and saw the benefits of union membership.
"Best thing I ever did," he said.
Washington, D.C., Local 26 member Dylan Kelliher and St. Louis Local 1455 retiree Jeanne Johnson won $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, in the same contest.
Union Plus is a nonprofit organization that offers a variety of programs to U.S. and Canadian union members. Those include car loans, mortgages, discounts for vacations and cellphone plans, and a no-fee credit card with a cash-back option. It also offers legal services to members at a discounted rate. Visit unionplus.org
for more information.