L.A. Local Builds Dreams for Military Veterans


December 17, 2013

Uyen Le, L.A. Local 11 compliance and outreach representative, meets with veterans applying for apprenticeships at the Electrical Training Institute.

Bridging differences between members is often difficult enough for local unions. Deciding how apprenticeships will be filled can sometimes be a point of controversy.


But, if recent posts on Los Angeles Local 11’s Facebook page are any indication, members are fully behind Business Manager Marvin Kropke’s goal to recruit at least 50 percent of future apprentices from among the ranks of military veterans.

“When America’s heroes, who bravely wear the uniform of the United States, return home from wars abroad, they should not have to struggle to find a job.” Kropke, a Purple Heart-decorated Vietnam veteran, told the San Fernando Valley Sun.

Local 11 and the National Electrical Contractors Association brought 23 veterans in the L.A. Electrical Training Institute’s inside wireman apprenticeship program to kick the program off. 

The five-year program is offered free and pays students $15.44 per hour with full benefits. By the end of their apprenticeships, the parties will have invested $40,000 in each graduate

“I was at a dead-end job, pretty much, just paycheck to paycheck. I’d rather have a career than a job—and this [electrical training institute] really seemed the place for me,” says Joseph Velasquez, 30, formerly a motor transport mechanic with the U.S. Marine Corps who served two combat deployments in Iraq and was introduced to the electrical trade through his brother-in-law, a Local 11 journeyman.

“I worked in the construction trade before, and what I found is that electricians use more of their brains than brawn. Of course there is manual labor involved, but there’s a lot of thought process that has to go in … That absolutely appeals to me,” adds Velasquez.

L.A. veterans attend Dec. 7 veteran interviewing and application day at the Electrical Training Institute.

A story on the training program posted on the campaign blog of Bob Hertzberg, a former speaker of the California House, reports on a 2012 study conducted by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles showing the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans in Los Angeles County rising to 18 percent. “Even worse, 35 percent of this same group of veterans doesn’t have employment with sustainable income,” he says.

“Veterans shouldn’t be living on the streets,” says Kropke. By partnering with L.A. County NECA, he says, “We give veterans the tools they need to succeed, to lift them out of poverty, and to excel in our economy. “ NECA employers are also offering direct-hire staff support.

As a special inducement, the ETI adopted new NJATC standards that waive pre-interview testing for all veterans who have been honorably discharged over the last five years. As long as they meet the algebra requirements and have a high school diploma or GED, they move straight to an interview.

In November, Local 11 sponsored an outreach event for women veterans that welcomed 150 participants with collaborative efforts from veteran service organizations and political constituents.

Mabel Miller, a veteran who assisted Rennie Wilson, Local 11 community outreach staff, in planning the program says, “We have had the honor to serve our country. It is now our honor to service our fellow soldiers, the least of which is to advocate for women veterans who need a hand up, not a hand out.”

“These types of programs are a win for all involved,” says Lt. Col. Patricia Jackson Kelly, a 28-year Army veteran and keynote speaker at the women’s event. “I commend the leadership and staff of Local 11 for being so dedicated to the cause. So many others just give lip service, but I can see and feel the commitment of IBEW.”

On December 7, ETI hosted a veteran apprenticeship interviewing and application day. Sixty-one veterans attended.  Many went straight to interviews and thirty-one were tested.

Uyen Le, L.A. Local 11 compliance and outreach representative (standing-front) and Rennie Wilson, Local 11 outreach representative, (seated, in blue jacket) meet with veterans applying for apprenticeships at the Electrical Training Institute.

 “We’re enthusiastic about the program. Veterans show up early for class, take direction and know how to work as a team, all qualities that make a good electrician,” says Uyen Le, Local 11 compliance and outreach representative. Seventy-eight veterans have entered the apprenticeship, 23 in the sound program alone.

“I’m excited to be part of a new Brotherhood,” says Adam Elder, a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran  and ETI student who served in Quatar, Kuwait and Afghanistan as a C-130 crew chief.

Local 11’s efforts, Le says, are part of the city’s leading role taking a comprehensive approach to veterans, including dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome, housing and employment.

In monthly meetings of the L.A. Veterans Collaborative, Local 11 representatives meet with a diverse group, including researchers from the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, the United Way, the California Department of Labor and nonprofit organizations dealing with veterans who are homeless or in need of basic assistance.

While all contacts are important in reaching out to prospective military veteran apprentices, Le says none are more important than Local 11’s active members, who are encouraged to talk to friends and relatives about the program.

A member’s post on Local 11’s Facebook page says, “Local 11 should set the standard … Just let’em in … They have all done what most of us won’t …. Took an oath to defend our freedom … Even if it means losing life and limb”