Toledo, Ohio, Local 245 recently organized the workers of a newly formed flagging company, and Fourth District International Vice President Gina Cooper is hoping that the way this win came about will spark creative organizing conversations throughout the IBEW.
“If we’re serious about growing the IBEW’s membership and capturing more market share, then this Toledo example could be very energizing to lots of other locals all around the union,” said Cooper, whose district covers Ohio along with Kentucky; Virginia; West Virginia; Maryland; and Washington, D.C.
Local 245’s highly skilled 800-plus members keep busy with agreements covering work in outside construction, line clearance tree trimming, broadcasting, and government. “We’re pretty fortunate,” said Business Manager Shane Bauman.
Also represented by the local are utility workers at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and the Walleye Power Bayshore Power Plant, as well as at Toledo Edison, a First Energy subsidiary that serves more than 300,000 customers in northwestern Ohio.
“At Toledo Edison, we represent a wide range of craft workers, such as linemen, substations, fleet and facility services, warehouse, meter services, comm techs — everybody who does field work there,” said Bauman, who has served as Local 245’s business manager since 2020.
Until recently, this did not include the traffic control flaggers who keep utility workers safe when they’re working near roads. Toledo Edison had outsourced that work to a nonunion contractor.
That’s not unusual, said Fourth District Lead Organizer Patrick Kallaher, who services Local 245: “A lot of utilities outsource flagging.”
One person who had not been happy with that contractor’s work, though, was Brett Frankart, owner of Frankart Power Line Services, a longtime Local 245 signatory contractor specializing in industrial and heavy commercial electrical installations. The company works with many utilities and companies in Local 245’s jurisdiction.
Kallaher noted that Frankart had come up through Local 245. “He sees value in an IBEW contract, that it’s a benefit for him and for his employees,” he said.
As he dealt with his unhappiness, Frankart’s IBEW background almost certainly was behind his novel solution.
“Brett started a new flagging company of his own, RKR Traffic Control,” Bauman said. “Then he asked me how we could get his traffic controllers on a signatory contract with the IBEW and Local 245.”
The business manager explained that the flagger classification falls under the IBEW’s professional and industrial jurisdiction, rather than the construction side with which Frankart was more familiar.
This distinction meant Frankart had a choice in how to proceed: He could wait for his dozen or so new hires to conduct an organizing campaign on their own or, if a majority of the workers turned in authorization cards, he could voluntarily recognize the IBEW as their representative.
“Brett is very particular about quality so, naturally, he had no objections to voluntary recognition with the IBEW,” Bauman said.
Local 245 Assistant Business Managers Justin Cappelletty and Ken Kurtz then worked with Kallaher to distribute union authorization cards to RKR’s workers. When most of the cards came back signed, Kallaher and Kurtz handled the National Labor Relations Board’s process, timeline and paperwork requirements for achieving recognition. Talks toward a first bargaining agreement got underway soon afterward.
“Brett takes great care of all of his employees,” Bauman said. “We were able to lock down first-contract language quickly.”
While Frankart’s history and connection with Local 245 were doubtless important factors throughout the organizing campaign, Bauman attributes much of the relative smoothness of the process to the effort his local’s members put toward good relationships with all their employers and contractors.
“Without a consistent effort building on the good relationship with Brett, who knows whether he would have gone with the IBEW?” Bauman said.
The business manager isn’t randomly using words like “relationships” and “quality.” Those terms, along with “safety,” “professionalism” and “accountability,” form the basis of the IBEW’s Code of Excellence, the union’s labor-management cooperation program that codifies its core values.
Bauman said Local 245 embraced the Code not long after it was implemented unionwide in 2006. It’s part of the local’s outside construction and utility agreements with Toledo Edison, where Code training is conducted for new managers and workers, along with regular refresher sessions.
“The value of the Code of Excellence is definitely recognized there,” Bauman said.
As this article was being prepared, RKR had expanded to nearly two dozen employees. “Brett started out small, but he recognizes the need for growth,” Bauman said.
Pleased with Local 245’s efforts, Vice President Cooper believes it would be useful for other locals to seek out similar prospects for bringing work and workers into the IBEW, and to encourage employers and contractors to think outside the box, too.
“The need for the IBEW’s values is everywhere,” Cooper said. “Sometimes, we just need to put some imagination into finding opportunities.”