The Electrical Worker online
January 2015

Small Local Plays Big in NYC Organizing
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What do football player Darren Sproles, boxer Manny Pacquiao and gymnast Shannon Miller have in common? They are celebrated because, while small in stature, they have played their sports powerfully, defeating much larger competitors.

Meet New York Local 1430, an 800-member local primarily concentrated in manufacturing and services, but an organizing powerhouse that plays big around the Big Apple.

"This local knows how to put on a first-rate campaign and beat the bushes to spark the interest of other employees in the economic sectors where they have been successful. I'm proud to be a part of the team," says lead organizer Joey Mastrogiovanni. "Local 1430 has teeth when it needs to use them, but always works to grow mutually-beneficial relationships with the companies it bargains and negotiates with."

Local 1430 Business Manager Jordan El Hag started out as an organizer in 2000 but went on to earn an MBA and a law degree to boost his effectiveness in navigating NLRB-supervised representation elections and winning contract negotiations.

The Electrical Worker spoke with El Hag about the keys to the local's success in organizing and how to carry momentum into first contract negotiations.

EW: Who does your local union represent?

JEH: Our members are spread out, working for 40 employers from Brooklyn to Orange County.

EW: Tell us about some of the organizing campaigns you have won.

JEH: In September 2013, we won an election at Chef's Warehouse, a supplier of food to upscale restaurants. The Electrical Worker reported on the campaign. We won another election in December 2013 covering cable installers. The employer filed objections, but we were certified by the NLRB months later. We lost an election to represent cafeteria workers at Pace Law School, but the company voluntarily recognized the union after we filed objections with the NLRB. We also prevailed in an election at Genting Worldwide, a surveillance bargaining unit inside the new casino in Queens. The employer tried to contest our ability to represent employees considered "guards," but the company backed down during an NLRB hearing.

EW: How does organizing fit in to your local's overall focus?

JEH: If local unions want to improve their organizing, they need to start by making the decision to focus on organizing. To become an "organizing local," the organization needs to understand that growth is the main priority. I know that it's difficult in locals where members are very demanding, but the leadership needs to communicate that only with more of an industry represented, can the membership improve its bargaining leverage. This is the case when you organize a new shop in an industry with no union density.

Locals often experience that lack of bargaining power and find members who are very displeased with their collective bargaining agreement because there is no industry standard set. When members realize that the larger the local in an industry, the better off they are, it may become easier to focus on organizing.

Seventy percent of our time and resources are spent organizing. The rest of the time is devoted to servicing existing units. This is the reverse of many locals. While members of some long-standing units question our focus on organizing, we try to stress how important growth is to our local's bargaining ability and to the labor movement. We explain, for instance, why our business reps may not come around to different shops as often as they once did [because they are at critical stages of organizing campaigns].

EW: So how does your local marshal its organizing clout?

JEH: All of our business agents act as organizers. Our goal is for each business agent to organize 100 new members each year. We conduct staff meetings each week to review targets. Our guys are on the street every day making contact with workers inside and outside industries we are focusing on. Even as they service locals, agents stay busy in the mornings, afternoons and evenings visiting workplaces to collect organizing contacts and information.

I'd like to acknowledge my excellent and talented staff who do all of the hard work. Samuel Gonzalez Jr. who, started with us two years ago as an organizer, is now vice president. He has led most of our organizing drives. Also, Dylan Wiley, who started with us a year ago, is responsible for 100 new members. I have yet to meet an organizer who can do it alone, and we have a great team.

EW: What is your organizing model?

JEH: We don't push ourselves on potential members. We "take the temperature" of an organizing target by talking to workers coming in or out of a workplace. If, after a couple weeks, we don't have any significant interest in the IBEW, we keep the contacts in our address books and move on. Periodically, we will call contacts to see if support for organizing has picked up.

If you have to push yourself on potential members, you are behind the 8 ball. The employers will defeat the campaign. We look to having 75 percent of a potential unit sign authorization cards and building a volunteer organizing committee of at least 10 percent of the members. The litmus test of success is whether people in a shop take ownership of a campaign, or keep asking us to do work they should be doing.

We rank potential members on their interest in joining the IBEW. We then focus on small meetings after their workday with the strongest supporters. We show them fliers from former organizing campaigns and discuss tactics companies use to defeat unions. We rarely conduct house calls.

Our model, developed over a decade, depends upon organizers who have the right temperament for the job: hard-working, outgoing members who can deal with a lot of rejection and still keep at it.

EW: How do you prepare for first contract bargaining?

JEH: At Chef's Warehouse, where we won by a 2 to 1 margin, for instance, we waited until the election was certified and any objections were resolved until setting up a bargaining committee. We always try to meet within a month after a winning election.

In the heat of a campaign, new members see us at their shops frequently. Once the campaign wins, we try to make sure they don't feel abandoned. We send a letter to each new member congratulating them for joining. We don't have a formula for the size of the negotiating committee. It depends on the size of the shop.

EW: How do you approach the employer after a winning campaign?

JEH: Especially if an employer hasn't dealt with a union before, we try to find out where the employer is coming from and balance our relationship to overcome any animosity that built up during a campaign. Our style and approach is to set up a collaborative effort. We hope employers will very soon say, 'This isn't as bad as I thought.'

At Chef's Warehouse, the employer came back with a last, best and final offer. The contract was voted down by the members. Since some members had questions about our local's bargaining stance, we expanded the bargaining committee, adding some of the most vocal members. The CEO met with us and came back with two proposals for us to compare. In the end, after ratification, our negotiations were a net gain for the membership.

We are a small local and everyone has to wear different hats. After a winning campaign, we try to develop new leaders. That means giving members responsibility and not being afraid when sometimes they trip and fall. We have found that after a year of organizing or negotiating contracts some members know almost as much as others who have been doing those jobs for years.


New York Local 1430 Business Manager Jordan El Hag, right, says organizers Dylan Wiley, left, and Sammy Gonzalez Jr. are part of a 'great team' that meets weekly to review targets.