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October 2015

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New Labor Ruling Changes the Game for Millions

The days of companies hiding behind subcontractors and taking an intentional arms-length approach to employment matters appear to be numbered, following an Aug. 27 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.

The decision means that if a parent company has a significant amount of control over conditions of employment — i.e. McDonald's Corp. over restaurants owned by franchises — they also share in employer responsibility.

For contract workers, temporary employees and just about anyone who works for an employer contracted under a parent company, this could have far-reaching implications.

"This is a victory for working families," said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson in response to the ruling. "The significance of this cannot be underestimated."

In a statement on the ruling, the Board wrote, "With more than 2.87 million of the nation's workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances."

The new standard for determining a joint-employer relationship says that, if a parent company contracts work and exercises a substantial amount of control over the conditions of employment, that company will now be considered a "joint employer" and therefore subject to the standards and laws that come with that. It also applies even if the parent company doesn't necessarily exercise control but reserves the right to do so.

"The decision by the National Labor Relations Board could upend the traditional arms-length relationship that has prevailed between corporate titans such as McDonald's and its neighborhood fast-food franchises," wrote Lydia DePillis for the Washington Post. "And it comes as concerns are growing about a generation of new Internet-fueled businesses such as Uber and Lyft that depend heavily on independent contractors."

As for how this will affect IBEW members, much remains to be seen. Since many in construction already have agreements for contracting, there may not be much change in that sector, said Virgil Hamilton, director of construction organizing. For others however, this could give more power to workers and force more accountability on parent companies.

"Any time workers can organize and influence the party affecting working conditions, it's a good thing," said Elizabeth Bunn, director of the AFL-CIO's organizing department.

The ruling resulted from a 2013 case brought by Teamsters Local 350 in Daly City, California, against Browning-Ferris Industries of California, a waste management company. The company used a temporary staffing agency called Leadpoint to provide workers for various jobs. When the local tried to organize those employees, it wanted to so with both Leadpoint and Browning-Ferris. The union argued that it was the larger company that determined the working conditions and consequently should be involved.

"Today's decision is another step to show that companies can no longer claim they are not employers when problems arise," said Ron Herrera, director of the Teamsters Solid Waste and Recycling Division. "Instead of pointing fingers if a worker gets hurt, companies will now be accountable. It's the decent and reasonable expectation that workers should have at work."


The NLRB makes parent companies more accountable to contracted employees.

Vets Reporting for Civilian Duty in Los Angeles

Transitioning from military to civilian life is a well-documented struggle, and returning soldiers often feel like they've slipped through society's cracks.

But at Local 11 in Los Angeles, there is a plan to embrace America's heroes, to help smooth their separation from the military and to get them started in careers, not simply jobs.

For Vietnam veteran and Local 11 Business Manager Marvin Kropke, the 2013 decision to reach out to veterans was an easy one.

"We're in the middle of one of the largest drawdowns of active duty troops since Vietnam," he said. "There's an opportunity for us to make a big difference in these people's lives, and it's the least we can do to try to help them, to try and prioritize them and give them some opportunity for their service to our country."

And in July, for the first time, Local 11 and the Los Angeles County chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association welcomed an all-veterans pre-apprenticeship boot camp to their joint Electrical Training Institute in Commerce.

The 29 veterans who completed the two-week course spanned every branch of the military, with one even joining the program before his active duty service in the Marine Corps was officially over.

"These vets are such a good fit," said Local 11 Treasurer Eric Brown, himself a former sailor who left the Navy in 1980. "They've got the discipline, the work ethic, and they crave the structure IBEW provides. We tell them exactly what's expected of them, and that's a lot like the military."

During the 13-day program, a requirement for all apprentices starting at Local 11, instructors teach students the basics of pipe-bending, ladder safety, and scissor-lift operation, along with countless other skills that will put them ahead of schedule when they report to the job site.

"We give them safety training too," Brown said, adding that first aid, CPR, ladder safety and some OSHA certifications are also covered. "So these are all things that give the contractor the comfort of saying, 'Here's a guy who didn't just go in and out to a construction site, somebody who's not going to walk off the side of a building.'"

And while dozens of veterans had already completed Local 11's boot camps in mixed classes, the July program was unique thanks to the camaraderie an all-veteran group could provide.

"We had a day that we set aside to have a little bit of a lunch with them," Brown said, "and we brought in some of the existing vets who were a little further into their apprenticeships, some for five or six months, and some for four years."

Brown, who also serves as Local 11's apprenticeship coordinator, said Kropke went around the room and had each service member introduce themselves with branch and rank, and that the exercise was helpful in developing the bond between them.

"The whole thing really helped me out because I was still in that military mindset," said Cesar Miramontes, a Marine Corps veteran just days removed from a five-year stint as a drone technician. He credited the boot camp with helping to ease his transition into civilian life.

"The camaraderie was really important," Miramontes said. "I was there with people who understood what I was going through, and I probably would have had a harder time in a group with fewer vets."

The idea to put on an all-veterans boot camp was partly the brainchild of Sgt. Maj. Mike Kufchak, a 32-year veteran of the Marines who retired in 2013 and was recruited to Local 11 by Kropke (See "Iron Mike's New Mission," July 2015).

Before shedding the uniform, Kufchak was the highest-ranking senior enlisted officer in the Marine Corps' 1st Marine Division. Dubbed "Iron" Mike by his comrades, he helped to lead more than 26,000 men and women into combat, earning himself two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

But when the time came to leave the Marines, Kufchak was looking for a mission, and he found it at the IBEW. Today, he is charged with helping Local 11 recruit military veterans, and by July he had enlisted enough former service members to make the idea of an all-veterans boot camp feasible.

"These guys and gals," he said, "they're reliable, responsible, dependable, and they have great aptitude about themselves, and they show up with a great work ethic.

"Coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, we have this tremendous number of veterans with combat experience who wanted to serve their nation, and now they're looking for careers that will stay with them the rest of their lives. And the IBEW offers that opportunity, with the same benefits they got in the military and the same sense of community and common purpose they had in uniform."

And Local 11's commitment to veterans doesn't stop there.

With so many new veterans entering the trade thanks to Kropke's leadership and Kufchak's efforts, said Brown, "A bigger goal is to have a veterans group or a veterans' mentorship going on, so there's even more of an internal brotherhood within the Brotherhood."

And Kropke hopes other business managers, other contractors' associations and other unions take notice. "I'm in a position to help," he said, "and I'm stepping forward. I hope others in my position around the country will step up just like these young men and women did when they volunteered."


Training Director Brett Moss teaches pipe-bending to U.S. Army veteran Eric Cooper during the July boot camp.

Photo: Mark Savage/Building Trades News

Swatting Swarming Bugs, Volunteers Build a Bridge Through a Swamp

The Great Dismal Swamp is much more inviting now that Norfolk, Va., Local 80 members have helped construct a smooth path across an area with the greatest biodiversity in the state.

Over a hot and sticky weekend, nine members of the Young Brotherhood of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers from Local 80 volunteered with the Union Sportsmen's Alliance to construct a boardwalk in a cypress marsh. The Young Brotherhood is part of IBEW's Reach out and Engage Next-gen Electrical Workers, which aims to encourage young workers to become active in their local unions.

"Our young workers group actually had a lot of fun working that weekend in the swamp," said Phil Fisher, Local 80 membership development coordinator. "We were told this boardwalk will be used to help disabled people gain access to a scenic outlook. Knowing that we were able to have a hand in making that possible was a huge motivator for this group."

It's not just swarming bugs that visitors will see. The Great Dismal Swamp, a federally protected national wildlife refuge, is home to five major forest communities, 57 species of butterflies, over 60 species of reptiles and amphibians — including three venomous snakes — and more than 200 species of birds. Otters, bats, foxes, deer and bears are among the mammals who call the swamp home, one of which paid a visit to the project.

"We all got a kick out of a piece of 4x4 that a bear had taken a chunk out of overnight — definitely a reminder that we weren't working on home turf," Fisher said.

The swamp, a 112,000-acre refuge in southern Virginia and extending into North Carolina, also holds historical significance. Prior to the Civil War, it served as a shelter and route to the north for slaves seeking freedom. The swamp has also been designated as a landmark on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

The boardwalk will allow refuge visitors to better explore this diverse and storied wetland. Once completed, it will comply with both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act, and will include blinds for photography as well as hunting opportunities for those with disabilities.

Launched in 2010, U.S.A.'s Work Boots on the Ground program brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise to projects that conserve wildlife habitat, educate future generations of sportsmen and women, improve public access to the outdoors or restore America's parks.

The Union Sportsmen's Alliance is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America's outdoor heritage. For more information, visit or


Local 80 volunteers build a new boardwalk at Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, including Business Manager Matt Yonka, left, Organizer Phil Fisher and Quentin Cressman.